This is the story of Lauren Przybyl, the FOX 4 Good Day Anchor we all love and how she nearly lost her life to HELLP Syndrome, a life-threatening form of preeclampsia.
On July 4, 2015, Lauren Przybyl woke up and knew something wasn’t right. With her 2-year-old Landry in tow, Lauren and her husband rushed to the hospital. There, doctors confirmed she had had a miscarriage.
A year later, Lauren almost died. Doctors performed an emergency C-section to save her life, and her second child, a baby boy she lovingly calls “Beck Bear,” was born.
Lauren and I meet at 11 a.m. on a sunny day in Plano. She opens the door in full makeup; her hair is perfect. Wearing 4-inch black pumps, sleek black pants and a fabulous silk shirt, she’s picture perfect and her work day at FOX 4 Good Day is already over.
“I get up at 2 a.m.,” she says. “I’m at work by 3 a.m. I work on news scripts until 4 a.m. and then I do my own hair and makeup. By 4:30 a.m. I’m on the air.” At 10 a.m. she’s back home and ready for an afternoon nap, but for me she manages to stay awake until noon.
Lauren welcomes me into her home like an old friend. We grab a bottle of water from the kitchen where I spot a high-chair decorated with blue birthday balloons.
“Beck just celebrated his first birthday,” she explains. Beck, who was born six weeks premature, recently learned to crawl. “When my husband gets home, he scoots right across the house to greet him.”
Lauren loves being a mom. Her eyes light up when she talks about how Beck is learning to talk, that he’s starting to pull himself up, that he’s learned to use a sippy cup, and how much he loves bubbles.
She talks about how Landry, now four, loves her little brother. “She really helps me out. … She thinks he’s her baby.”
But when I ask, “Will you have another?” Her answer is an adamant “no.” There’s a hint of sadness in her eyes.
“When I was pregnant with Beck, I thought I’d have another one,” she explains. “Now, I think it’s more important for my kids to have their mom than for them to have another sibling.”
If Lauren has another baby, there’s a chance it could kill her. Being pregnant with Beck almost did.
At her 33-week check-up, Lauren’s doctor found that her blood pressure was abnormally high. Concerned about preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition characterized by high-blood pressure and responsible for 15 percent of all premature births, Lauren was admitted to the hospital. After a few days of rest, her blood pressure returned to normal and she was sent home.
However, Lauren was given steroids to help strengthen her son’s lungs “in case he had to be delivered early.”
That weekend she continued to rest, but made plans to go back to work on Monday. She periodically checked her blood pressure.
On Saturday night, she woke up. Something was wrong.
“It was the worst pain of my life,” she says. “I couldn’t move my neck, my back or my shoulders.” Her blood pressure was twice what it should have been.
Back at Texas Health Dallas, Dr. Hampton Richards broke the news that her placenta was shutting down and was causing her liver to bleed; the only way to save her life was to deliver Beck early.
“I asked, ‘When?’ and he said, ‘We need to do an emergency C-section, now.'”
Lauren had been diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a rare and atypical form of preeclampsia which affects 2 in 1,000 pregnant women. Globally, it has a mortality rate of 25 percent.
“H is for hemolysis which is your red blood cells breaking down,” Dr. Richards told Lauren on a special segment about her near death experience for FOX 4. “EL is elevated liver enzymes which is damage to your liver, and LP is low platelets which affects the blood’s ability to clot.”
HELLP syndrome, Lauren says, is often difficult to diagnose. “Trust your instincts,” she adds. “If you think something is wrong, say something—and keep saying something. I’ve met many women who were told their symptoms were normal, but it turned out they had HELLP.”
The most common symptoms of preeclampsia are high blood pressure and leaking protein into the urine. However, when a woman has HELLP syndrome, these symptoms may not be present.
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“The problem with HELLP is that it behaves atypically,” explains Dr. Richards. “The main things to look out for are headaches, spots in your vision and pain around the liver, which is your upper right side; it feels like terrible heartburn.”
Essentially, the placenta starts to break down and begins to kill the mother. The only effective cure is to end the pregnancy—whether the baby is ready, or not.
In the OR, Lauren’s husband, a pediatrician who specializes in sports medicine, tried to prepare her. “He told me, ‘He’s going to be very small. They’re going to need to take him to NICU. He may have trouble breathing.'”
Around her, Lauren could hear the medical staff preparing themselves. “They kept saying, ‘It’s a 34-weeker,’ over and over again.”
Lauren focused on Landry. “As I lay there, I kept thinking about this blue-eyed, blonde-haired little girl who still needed her mommy.”
Lauren and her husband heard their son before they saw him. Beck came into the world screaming, “loud,” says Lauren. The whole room cheered.
At just 34 weeks, most babies have lungs that are not yet fully developed. “My little guy was only 5 lbs, but he never needed oxygen,” Lauren told her 64,000 Facebook followers.
He was even well enough to meet mom and dad before he was taken to NICU. “I gave him a kiss on the cheek,” Lauren recalls.
While Beck was doing great, Lauren was struggling to recover. “I couldn’t make it out of my room. Every time I would try I would come close to passing out,” she says. “Beck
was just two floors below me but I couldn’t go visit him.”
But she could see him. Thanks to Peek-a-Boo NICU cameras, Lauren was able to log on and watch Beck whenever she wanted. “I would wake-up in the middle of the night and just watch him sleeping. One look at his sweet face put me at ease.”
When Lauren finally did get to visit him, more than 24 hours after he was born, she was brought down to the NICU in a wheelchair.
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“It was three days before I truly got to hold Beck because I was so sick with HELLP,” Lauren says. “That was the hardest thing I’ve experienced in my life.”
Today, Lauren uses social media and her role with FOX 4 to raise awareness for HELLP syndrome, as well as miscarriages. While they don’t correlate, she has experienced both. “HELLP is rare, but miscarriage is very common,” she explains. “1 in 3 women have a miscarriage; many have multiple losses. Through talking about it, we can help one another.”
To celebrate Beck’s first birthday, Lauren threw a bear-themed party. A small family affair that included Beck’s great grandparents — 98 and 90, respectively — everyone enjoyed “Beck Bear” cookies and took home a bear-shaped goody bag. For herself, Lauren got mini bundt cakes.
“Because I survived,” she says.
Originally published in Local Profile‘s December 2017 issue.
Find out more about preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome here.