Breastfeeding Mom Pumping Hours After Open-Heart Surgery Is the Definition of Badass

Stephanie Sampson

Stephanie Sampson
Stephanie Sampson

Stephanie Sampson is one incredibly lucky mother and she knows it. Not just because she is a mom of three healthy kiddos but because she is here to see just how amazing they are. That's because Sampson beat the odds and unknowingly gave birth to her youngest, Eli, with an undiagnosed heart condition that in all likelihood, should've killed her -- especially during labor. But instead, Sampson not only survived childbirth with an aortic aneurysm, this fierce mom was pumping breast milk immediately following open-heart surgery to repair a chronic aortic dissection that few survive. 

  • Sampson had no idea anything was wrong during her third pregnancy and birth. In fact, it happened to be her easiest. 

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    Before Sampson gave birth to baby Eli in April 2017, this mom from Utah had experienced no difficulties or symptoms suggestive of any type of heart troubles. "Matter of fact, my pregnancy and birth with Eli was my easiest. My other two had shoulder dystocia and their deliveries were quite traumatic," she tells CafeMom. "My birth of Eli healed so many wounds from those experiences."

  • Advertisement
  • Three months after Eli was born, she happened to go in for a physical before an insurance switch -- and that changed everything. 

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    Despite not feeling like she needed a physical because she had just received "stellar prenatal care," Sampson decided to stop by her primary care in July while it was still covered by her current insurance. That's when her doctor mentioned hearing a heart murmur and suggested further testing just to be safe. 

    "I had no previous symptoms and no real reason to suspect that they were actually going to find anything," she says. "After my test, the cardiologist came in and told me that they were going to take me over for a CT scan. I'm an ER nurse. I immediately knew what was going on, it was just a matter of how bad it was." 

  • "My primary care doctor literally saved my life," she says.

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    The scan revealed what her cardiothoracic surgeon believed was "just" a thoracic aortic aneurysm and he made arrangements to operate Sampson in a few weeks after he returned from vacation. "While the situation was urgent, it was not emergent. His thoughts were that because I had just had a baby and didn’t die, I would surely be ok before my appointment," she says.

    According to Mayo Clinic, a thoracic aortic aneurysm is a weakening in part of the aorta that can cause life-threatening bleeding. It was decided that she would undergo open-heart surgery on July 31.

  • She immediately knew that she wanted to keep breastfeeding after surgery but didn't know how.

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    Sampson was determined to continue breastfeeding and started researching online looking for nursing success after open-heart surgery. She says that she couldn't find any helpful information but her sister refused to let her give up. "I was so incredibly sad about not being able to continue breastfeeding him," she says. "It's kind of ironic because my sister is the reason I breastfed my first. We had no idea if this would work, but not being able to continue nursing what was potentially my last child was devastating. She and I committed to try."

  • Just hours after open-heart surgery, this mama was pumping with her sister's help to keep up her supply. 

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    As soon as her breathing tube was removed following the surgery, Sampson's sister hooked her up to her breast pump. "I wasn’t even able to sit up because every time I tried, I would nearly pass out," she says. "Everyone in the hospital was supportive of my pumping and wanting to keep my milk supply. No one said anything negative."

    Sampson decided not to save the milk she pumped because she didn't want to have to worry about sterilizing parts or storing it while in the hospital.  However, knowing that she could successfully pump during her stay in order to keep up her supply felt like a major win. "This pic is less than 24 hours post open-heart surgery. (And had I known I’d ever share it, I would’ve made her fix that darn side pony tail 🤣)," she shared with Breastfeeding Mama Talk's Facebook page. "This picture represents one of my greatest accomplishments."

  • But it turns out that she's luckier to be alive than anyone originally thought. 

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    The day after Sampson's operation, her surgeon told her that while they where doing the repair, they found that she had an aortic dissection, meaning one of the layers of her aorta had torn and was leaking blood. 

    According to Mayo Clinic, aortic dissections are most common in older men and typical induce symptoms including sudden severe chest pain, abdominal pain, and loss of consciousness. Dr. Frank Criado, a vascular surgeon and endovascular specialist, reported that 80 percent of untreated cases result in death by the end of two weeks and Samspon says she has no idea what year even her dissection possibly occurred. 

    "At some time in my life, probably within the last few years, my aorta dissected. I don’t remember ever having chest pain. I have no idea when this injury occurred," she says. "He explained that only 10 percent of patients that suffer an aortic dissection survive without intervention and he couldn’t think of a case of a woman that survived child birth with an unknown dissection and survived."

  • She stayed in the hospital for a week and pumped three times each day.

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    Sampson was still able to give Eli breast milk even though she wasn't saving what she pumped in the hospital. That's because with her previous babies, she had pumped extra breast milk to donate and had been doing the same this time before her diagnosis. "That was important to me after Eli was born too. So I had started pumping at two weeks postpartum and had 700 ounces stored to donate," she says. "So that's what they fed Eli while I was in the hospital."

  • When Sampson finally got home, the first thing she did was sit and try to officially breastfeed her baby boy.

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    "[This] picture was after returning home and nursing my son for the first time in six days. My face full of exhaustion and relief," she wrote. "My sister snapped the candid photo of us successfully nursing."

    After that first latch, Sampson worked to nurse him as much as possible and her husband supplemented Eli with a bottle. "I couldn’t pick him up for six weeks so my husband would bring him to me when it was time to eat," she says. "He would wake with him in the night. He did everything for a while. After about three weeks, I was able to nurse him only. Eventually I was able to make extra milk again for donation."


  • "My hope was to inspire. Show vulnerability. Show strength. Show just how badass us mothers are!"

    Breastfeeding after surgery
    Stephanie Sampson

    Sampson was able to breastfeed Eli for 13 months before weaning and realizes just how fortunate she is. Now, she's hoping to inspire other mamas who might be going through similar struggles.

    "Why did I share my story? Like I said, there was no information about breastfeeding after open-heart surgery available on the internet. I thought, 'Hey I figured out a way to do this and if it can help just one mom, then lets share!'" she says. "I also shared because breastfeeding is hard. Mothering is hard. We all share the pretty moments and rarely share the vulnerable ones. Can’t get much more vulnerable and real than naked with a hospital gown, tubes coming out of everywhere, no make up, looking like hell and just trying to be a mom."