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A life threatened before a life began

Bryan Homstad (from left) holds his 11-week-old son, Odin, while they sit with Hudson, 4, and Bryan’s wife, Bailey Homstad, at their Cloquet home. In May, Bailey was eight months’ pregnant when her husband fell ill and was rushed to St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth for emergency heart surgery. Bailey gave birth to Odin while they both were in the hospital. (Clint Austin / / 2
Eleven-week-old Odin Homstad sleeps at his Cloquet home Saturday afternoon. Odin’s mother, Bailey, was eight months’ pregnant as her husband was undergoing emergency heart surgery. Bailey gave birth to Odin just days after Bryan’s surgery. (Clint Austin / / 2

It was the calm before the storm.

Bailey Homstad and her husband, Bryan, were just days away from welcoming their second child.

Then they received an unexpected, terrifying twist.

“It was nerve-wracking. … There was a lot of praying and crying,” Bailey Homstad said. “I still replay that day in my head a lot.”

The couple were eating dinner on May 1 at Spirits Restaurant and Bar in Carlton when Bryan started feeling ill.

“I could tell something was wrong with him; he called me earlier that day to tell me he didn’t feel well,” said Bailey, 28.

Bryan, 33, took one bite of his meal before saying he needed to go to the emergency room.

“I just went to the ER to prove to my wife nothing was wrong,” he said. “I told her at the restaurant it’s not life or death.”

The two got in their car and rapidly drove to Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet. Bryan thought he had extreme heartburn; Bailey thought he had high blood pressure, and the Cloquet doctors initially thought he was having a heart attack. Soon Bryan was rushed in an ambulance to St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth for treatment of an aortic dissection — a tear in the aorta.

“When one of the cardiologists saw Bryan, they said it was apparent that he wasn’t having a heart attack,” St. Luke’s cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mary Boylan said. “The echocardiogram revealed the dissection.”

Once the dissection was diagnosed, Boylan and the heart team of anesthesiologists, nurses and several other St. Luke’s doctors quickly geared up to perform surgery on Bryan.

“It all happened so fast,” Boylan said. “He made the right choice by coming in right away. It is such a high-risk operation, and every hour you delay surgery, your chance of survival goes down.”

Bryan had struggled with high blood pressure throughout his life but said he never experienced previous heart problems. His aorta had deteriorated because of hypertension, and he needed an aortic valve replacement.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, he also had to have his teeth removed because they weren’t in good shape. Infections around the teeth can spread to and infect the heart valves — and having the heart valves infected can be a disaster, Boylan said.

Bryan spent 10 hours in surgery.

“The worst part is walking into ICU, seeing Bryan, touching his hand and him not waking up,” Bailey said. “I was scared; I mean this is the person I’m madly in love with.”

Family members and friends were praying that Bryan’s surgery would go well — and that Bailey Homstad wouldn’t go into labor while her husband was in surgery. Boylan finally came out of the operating room and announced that the surgery was a success.

“It is a big operation, and he did really well,” Boylan said. “Looking back on everything, it is a really fascinating story. You wouldn’t think a 33-year-old would have this problem.”

Bryan didn’t wake up until the morning of May 6; he couldn’t remember anything from the previous five days.

“I didn’t know what to think when I finally woke up,” Bryan said. “It was like a bad dream of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ”

Baby arrives

Bailey was due to give birth May 7, but she wasn’t induced until May 12 and spent the next 24 hours in labor before giving birth to a healthy baby boy named Odin. He joins 4-year-old brother Hudson.

Bryan was in the room at the beginning of his son’s delivery, but then had to leave.

“He had to leave because his heart wasn’t able to handle everything,” Bailey said. “He wasn’t even allowed to leave his hospital room; I had to sign release papers for him to come to my room.”

Bryan said the toughest part of the experience wasn’t the painful surgery but the fear of missing the birth of his second son.

“I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see my newborn son,” he said. “I’m happy I got to stick around to see him, although it was tough not being able to pick him up and hold him.”

The Homstads were discharged from the hospital May 15, and since then they’ve been working to get back to their normal lives in Cloquet. They’ll both return to work within the next two weeks. Bryan completed his cardiac rehab last week.

“I’m getting stronger and I can do more things,” he said. “I have one more doctor appointment. After that I’ll just continue with life as normal.”

The Homstads described the experience as a blessing. In an interview last week, they couldn’t stop expressing their gratitude for the doctors, nurses and medical staff and the seemingly endless support and prayers they received from everyone.

“I never felt alone during the process,” Bryan said. “I had great family support. I’m so thankful for St. Luke’s help during the entire process.”