When she discovered she was pregnant with her first baby last year, Shelly Cawley immediately knew she wanted to have a natural childbirth, according to the Washington Post. But late in her pregnancy, she developed a blood clot in her leg, which doctors treated with blood thinners.
"We knew what we were going to do, and then all of a sudden that plan was taken away from me," she told the Post.
When her water broke in early September, Cawley's labor failed to progress, and she was told she had a potentially life-threatening case of preeclampsia a condition that involves dangerously high blood pressure and that the only way they could save her life, as well as her baby's, was to do an emergency C-section.
As Cawley prepared to go into surgery, she couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong.
"I was telling the doctors that I was scared that I wasn't going to wake up from my surgery, which is kind of eerie to look back on because I was right," Cawley told WCNC.
While the Cawleys' daughter Rylan was born healthy and safely, her mother's condition quickly began to deteriorate.
Cawley's husband, Jeremy, was informed that his wife's lungs were filling with fluid impacting her ability to breath on her own. The blood clot Cawley had fought during pregnancy had moved to her lung and created a pulmonary embolism, and she had slipped into a coma, WCNC reported.
The prognosis was grim.
"We didn't know how she was going to make it and she had had no interaction with her child," Cawley's nurse, Ashley Manus, told the Post. "If that was going to be it for her, we wanted to be able to tell the baby: 'Your mom held you.'"
Jeremy Cawley and the medical staff treating his wife didn't know if she would pull through, but felt the baby was her strongest chance. So they stripped the hours-old little girl down and placed her on her dying mother's bare chest.
"(The doctors') hope was that if Shelly could smell the baby, feel the baby, hear the baby even in the coma it would give her a reason to fight," Jeremy Cawley said. "They needed her to start to fight."
The nurses pinched the baby to wake her up, and her little cry prompted a spike in her mother's vitals. "We knew that somewhere in there she was hearing her baby," Manus told People Magazine. "Rylan saved her mom's life."
A week later, Cawley woke up from her coma for good and was able to consciously hold her daughter for the first time. Both mother and baby went home from the hospital with no complications, and are still thriving today.
"I think it's pretty amazing," Shelly Cawley told WCNC on the year anniversary of her daughter's birth. "It just amazes me that a baby so little can have such a big impact. They're pretty much helpless. They can't do anything, but yet she was able to. Her crying was able to give me something to fight for."
Rylan's family and friends gathered last week to celebrate her first birthday and the "miracle" she performed when she first entered the world.
"I just look at her now and think of the amazing bond we have," Cawley told People. "I can tell her when she grows up that she saved my life."