Cause of death determined in pregnant mother-of-four

Anthony and Heidy Arteaga in a photo. Heidy’s death on May 7 was from a rare disease called lymphocytic myocarditis.

Husband shares the moments surrounding her death

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

The cause of Heidy Arteaga’s death was finally determined more than three months after the local mother-of-four, who was expecting her fifth child, passed away at age 40.

Heidy died on May 7 of a rare disease called lymphocytic myocarditis, said Anthony Arteaga, her husband of eight years who lives in Four Points. Their unborn daughter, Chloe Nicole Arteaga, also died that morning.

Triggered by a virus, Heidy’s heart was inflamed and the swelling caused her heart to beat unusually fast, so fast that it stopped, Arteaga explained. He found out from the coroner two weeks ago.

Heidy was 24 weeks pregnant and fighting an upper respiratory infection prior to getting really sick, Arteaga said.

In the years leading up to her heart stopping, every time she had a virus, it would weaken her heart, Arteaga learned.  

Initially Travis County did the autopsy and there was a temporary death certificate issued pending further studies.

“There were so many things that didn’t add up,” Arteaga said. Heidy was fit and young, two weeks from her 41st birthday. Her prenatal checkups were normal and routine.

“How does someone like that suddenly die,” Arteaga said. He admits to being upset when the doctors or coroner could not tell him the cause of death right away.

“I was pissed,” he remembers thinking. “They missed something. She was 24 weeks pregnant and rarely sick.”   

But at that time no one knew she had lymphocytic myocarditis, one of the rarest diseases on the planet, he said.

He recalls the days before her death, which will forever be etched in his mind.

Heidy didn’t feel well on Saturday, May 5 and they went to the emergency room. Some eight hours later, they returned home. She was in bed all day Sunday, and Arteaga said she told him, “I feel like a truck ran over me.”  

Around 4 a.m. on Monday, May 7, Heidy was dry heaving. Arteaga woke up, checked her pulse and remembers telling her, “You should not be this pregnant and be this sick.”

He called her doctor and by 4:30 a.m. they were rushing to St. David’s Medical Center. Arteaga left the car running while signing Heidy in, then staff took her while Arteaga parked the car.

When he walked in her room, they were struggling to get in an intravenous therapy line or IV.

“Get an IV in her right now. Get your boss in here right now,” said Arteaga, who was frustrated as the scene was unfolding.

The head nurse tried to help, they paged one of the specialists and ended up trying to get the IV in through her leg. There were two nurses working on each side of Heidy.

Arteaga was holding his wife’s hand while medical staff were working on her.

“She was squeezing my hand really hard and had shortness of breath and said, ‘Anthony something’s really wrong,’” he remembered.

In a split second, her head was bobbing and he started rubbing her back and asked, “What do you mean something’s wrong? Whoa, hey, stay with me.”

She looked at him and her eyes rolled back and up to the right, he said. It looked like she was having a heart attack. “That was it. She was gone,” he said.

The hospital staff pushed the code red button which indicates an emergency. Within 15 seconds, doctors started pouring in.

“They pulled me into hallway,” Arteaga said. “I remember the look on all of the faces of nurses running in and out. Doctors rushed by with visors on, ready to do surgery.”

They came out to ask if they should try to save the baby if they could not save mom, “because the baby’s heart was still beating.”

“Yes,” Arteaga said.

But a few minutes later, they came back out with the update that they could not save either. Both hearts stopped beating.

The emergency lasted about 30 minutes. Crushed, Arteaga walked back in the room when it was over.

“There’s a presence to death,” he said. Right away he could smell death. He lost two buddies who were front of him in 2003 while fighting in Iraq with the U.S. Army. “You never forget that smell,” he said. 

“There was a tube in her mouth with tape,” Arteaga said. “I loved her for about 30 minutes, talking with her, thinking I’ve got her mom to call, and trying to figure it all out.”

Her four children needed to know this devastating news. He was thinking,

“Heidy is literally their life, and she’s gone.”

Her children from her first marriage are Kristian, Karson and Kyleigh Sohrt, and  Grayson Arteaga is their son.

After Heidy’s death, since it was undetermined, the examiners took a chest X-ray which showed nothing abnormal. They took samples of everything including heart, brain, liver and bone marrow. They conducted a toxicology report.

It took many weeks to put every tissue under microscope to pinpoint the cause of death. “They ran every test in the book,” Arteaga said.

Finally on Aug. 22 when he got word of Heidy’s cause of death, there was some relief.

Lymphocytic myocarditis is listed as a rare disease by the National Organization for Rare Disorders. He learned that lymphocytic myocarditis is not hereditary and it’s a condition that usually occurs in people between 20 and 40 years old.

“She was a ticking time bomb. She could have lived another 20 years and this could have happened on another virus she got,” he said. “When people find out about it, it’s normally too late.”

Arteaga added that there are some commonalities surrounding the number 7 and his wife’s death. Heidy was 7 when her father went to work one day and never came home after drowning in a tugboat accident. And their son, Grayson, was 7 when Heidy left for the hospital and never came back home. Heidy was born in 1977, her favorite number was 7 and she died on May 7.

Arteaga is slowly moving on from the devastating loss of his wife and unborn daughter.

“That’s the thing I struggled with for awhile,” he said. “I wish I had at least some time to have the ability to say some sort of good bye.”

Anthony and Heidy Arteaga in a photo taken earlier this year before Heidy died at age 40 while 24 weeks pregnant from a rare disease recently diagnosed.