Shadows pace outside as angels stand guard: The life-and-death battle of a pregnant woman who collapsed from a brain bleed
by Janice Tai // July 7, 2022, 9:49 pm
Adrian, daughter Michaela, and Angie in her third trimester of pregnancy, before she suffered a massive brain bleed. All photos courtesy of Adrian and Angie.
It had been a packed day for Pilates instructor Angie Seow, 40.
On March 19 last year, a 36-week pregnant Angie had back-to-back sessions with her clients from 7.30am in the morning till 2pm in the afternoon at the Pilates studio.
She took a break for lunch, and then resumed her classes.
All of a sudden, she felt as though her head was being smashed. With her head throbbing in pain, she rushed to the pantry to sit down.
Her last memory was of placing her head down on the table to rest.
A peculiar sight: Unconscious, yet vomiting
Meanwhile, Angie’s colleague noticed that Angie appeared to be sleeping, yet she was vomiting.
Suspecting that she might have had food poisoning from lunch, she called Angie’s husband, asking him to hurry down to drive Angie to the doctor.
“I tried to wake her up when I got there, but I couldn’t. It was a strange sight because her eyes was closed yet she was throwing up at the same time,” said Angie’s husband, Adrian Yuen, 42.
It dawned on him that she was likely unconscious.
“While her womb is being sewn up, the brain surgeons will come in to operate on her brain,” the doctor said.
Immediately, he told her colleague to call an ambulance. Somehow, they managed to manoeuvre an unconscious and heavily pregnant Angie, who was simultaneously vomiting, out of the pantry.
When they reached the A&E department of the National University Hospital, the doctor told Adrian he suspected that Angie was having a stroke or brain bleed and immediately ordered a scan. The vomiting was a possible sign of an involuntary reflex action as a result of brain trauma.
Not long after, Adrian was summoned to a room where he saw a group of five or six doctors milling around. One of them informed him that they found major bleeding in Angie’s brain, likely due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). An AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, which disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation.
A rare condition, AVM might have been a condition Angie has had since birth, doctors told Adrian. It could have been triggered by her pregnancy.
“We need to do two emergency surgeries. The first is for the baby – mum will be wheeled in immediately and a C-section done by the O&G doctors. While her womb is being sewn up, the brain surgeons will come in to operate on her brain,” the doctor told Adrian.
Will my wife and baby live?
Shock, fear, devastation and grief overwhelmed Adrian as the news slowly started sinking in. Given the gravity of the situation, he knew he could lose both his wife and baby.
“I am not asking you, I am telling you that we need to do this,” the doctor interrupted his muddled train of thought.
“If we don’t do this, your wife will not survive. We are going to try to save her life.”
In a daze, Adrian nodded.
“I was pleading with Him, and I believe God knows and understands my groans.”
By then, about 40 to 50 family and church members had arrived at the hospital. They hovered downstairs in groups to pray for Angie.
Adrian and his mum were given a private room at the A&E to rest and wait.
“I was extremely fearful, anxious and sick to the stomach. I was afraid that I would lose Angie and become a single parent,” said Adrian. He and Angie had a three-year-old daughter at the time.
Only about 1% of the general population have AVM, he discovered, and of those afflicted with it, more than half do not survive a brain bleed. The rest may live with severe or permanent loss of their faculties.
While waiting in the room, Adrian could not find the words to pray. All he could muster was groaning to the Lord and calling upon His name.
“I was pleading with Him, and I believe God knows and understands my groans,” said Adrian, who has been attending St John’s-St Margaret’s Church since he was a child.
After a few hours, he received news that his baby was born.
The moment he held his second-born daughter, Natalia, in his arms, he broke down. It was the first time he lost his composure in the hospital.
“I was overjoyed that she seemed fine but I was also in fight-or-flight mode. There was a whirlwind of emotions – joy and gratefulness over the baby, but also grief, anxiety and fear about Angie and the future,” recalled Adrian.
In the wee hours of the morning, at 1 or 2am, he was called into the operating theatre.
The doctor explained that the AVM in Angie’s brain had burst and flooded her brain with blood. The team had tried their best to locate and clip up all the abnormal blood vessels they could find in her brain.
“If we have been successful in finding and removing every abnormal part, the brain bleed will not happen again. But if there are more abnormal parts than what we have been able to see and remove, your wife will not live to see your children grow up,” the doctor told Adrian frankly.
The crucial 48 hours
Adrian knew that the medical team had done their best, and he would have to wait and see if Angie woke up in the next 48 hours. The sobering news was that, if she did not, there was only a slim chance that she would ever wake up.
As he waited to see his wife, Adrian felt weak and deeply shaken.
One phone call out of the blue had turned his world upside down – one moment he was anticipating being a happy family of four, and the next he was left with the possibility of becoming a single parent to his toddler.
“I was carried by the prayers of our family and friends. I did what I needed to do, one thing after another, one day at a time,” he said.
He was left with the possibility of becoming a single parent to his toddler.
When Angie woke up in the afternoon, the first thing she said to her husband was: “Dear, untie me.”
She was restrained as she had previously pulled out the breathing tube from her throat, damaging her vocal cords in the process.
When her husband gently refused her request, a visibly disorientated Angie became agitated and aggressive.
Her violence stemmed from the fact that she was experiencing severe pain from her shoulders, up her neck, to her head. A shunt had been fitted on her head to drain cranial fluid.
She could not recall any of these procedures.
All she knew was that she had put her head down on the table at the pantry, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in confusion the next day.
Related Angie to Salt&Light: “I woke up wondering where my baby was. My legs also felt so weak and I needed someone to help me go to the toilet.”
“I found myself swimming in God’s grace. He sent family, friends and hospital staff to support us and pray for us.”
In the days ahead, the doctors would assess the extent of the loss of her faculties as a result of her brain bleed.
Adrian was relieved that his wife had regained consciousness, but did not know how much of his wife was left after the brain surgery.
They discovered that her long-term memory was largely intact, but her short-term memory was decimated.
That meant that she could recognise most of the faces of family and friends who came to see her, but by the afternoon she would have no recollection of their morning visit.
She could not even remember the first time her newborn baby was brought to her at her hospital bed.
The only evidence of the moment was the video and photos that Adrian took.
Newborn baby Natalia would later have her Mandarin name recorded as “An”, meaning peace in Chinese.
Friends of the couple had sent Adrian a song by Bethel Music titled “Peace” during their hospital stay and Adrian would sing the song to his daughter while she lay in the incubator at the paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“She came into the world in such a traumatic way, so I prayed for God to bring supernatural peace into her soul, spirit and life, so that she would fulfil the purpose for which her life was saved,” said Adrian.
During this period, Adrian hardly had the time to sit down and process his own emotions.
Instead, his predominant thoughts and prayers centred around asking God for strength to pull through another day.
He could not fall apart, he told himself, because he needed to send his daughter to school and take care of his wife in hospital every day.
“Though I was simply in functional mode, I found myself swimming in God’s grace. He sent family, friends and hospital staff to support us and pray for us,” said Adrian.
“It felt like the hand of the Lord was on the small of my back, guiding me forward and carrying me from one day to another when I could not walk,” he added.
The spiritual battle over Angie’s life
When Angie was still in ICU, a cell group friend of theirs texted Adrian.
“The hand of the Lord was on the small of my back, guiding me forward and carrying me from one day to another.”
This friend was praying for Angie a day after her operation when he saw a vision of angels encamped around Angie, with their swords drawn and their shields raised.
As Adrian sat by Angie’s bedside, thinking about his friend’s vision and praying, he also saw his own vision: He saw dark shadows pacing outside the ICU room, trying to find ways to get into the room. But they could not because Angie was surrounded by angels.
“I knew the evil one was going to latch on to Angie’s weaknesses – her fear of death and pain – to attack her. But I drew comfort from the fact that God had saved her life and He would protect her,” said Adrian.
The spiritual battle over Angie’s life did not wane.
He saw dark shadows pacing outside the ICU. But they could not get in because Angie was surrounded by angels.
A few nights later, Angie turned to her husband and said: “Darling, my time here is done. I miss my Maker. It’s time for me to go home. I know you will be fine.”
Adrian was shocked. Angie had always been an upbeat and bubbly person. This was uncharacteristic of her.
He recalled the vision that he saw a few days ago and summoned up every ounce of strength he had to speak God’s truth to her with authority: “The fact that you are still sitting here shows that the Lord has saved you and that your work on earth is not yet done. You are not going anywhere.”
A few days later, Angie’s condition improved and she was moved to a general ward.
A dream of death
There was one particular night in the ward when the pain Angie felt was so bad that she did not think she would make it through the night.
She asked her husband in desperation: “Can you not go home? Just stay here with me?”
“I am usually not needy like that, but that night, my spirit was sensitive to the unfriendly things that were waiting to get me and I felt I was really teetering between this life and the next,” said Angie recalled.
Adrian sat beside his wife and, for the first time, decided to tell her about the vision that he saw of shadows and angels.
“That night, my spirit was really teetering between this life and the next.”
Reassured by God’s protection, Angie calmed down and fell asleep.
What Adrian did not know was that her fear of death had first crept in through a dream that she had had just a week prior to her hospitalisation.
In the dream, she was trying to talk to her family and friends, but they were ignoring her. She then realised that it was because she was no longer alive.
She woke up crying from the dream, and immediately reached out for her daughter, Michaela, who was sleeping next to her. Feeling uneasy about her upcoming scheduled caesarian section, she texted her mentor to pray for her.
In the lead-up to her second delivery, she also had lingering fears, as her first pregnancy had been traumatic. As a Pilates instructor, she desired a natural childbirth and assumed she would have one. Yet she had ended up having an emergency C-section as her baby’s heartbeat had fallen rapidly.
Home sweet home
After 20 days of being in hospital, Angie was miraculously discharged, with her baby in tow.
As she stepped into the house and saw her firstborn, she wept for an hour to think how she could have died and never seen her daughter again.
With a newborn now at home, Angie had to see to the baby as well as her own recovery. Post brain-surgery, she found herself easily tired and overstimulated.
Needing to take frequent naps to let her brain rest and recover, she would take naps with Baby Natalia.
Otherwise, she would be in relatively good cheer, catching up with family and friends as they dropped by to visit her.
The evening hour
But the trauma lingered. At 5 to 6pm every day when the sunlight changed, a creeping fear of death would return to haunt her.
“The incident reminded me how powerful prayer is. The Lord hears us even in the simplest of prayers.”
An overwhelming sense of fear and sadness would set in and, even if she was in mid-conversation with friends or Adrian, she would excuse herself and make her way upstairs to hide with her baby in the room.
Distracting herself with the baby, she would try to keep the gnawing dread at bay.
This happened every evening for a week or two whenever the sun set.
One day, she had friends over when the evening hour struck. She explained her situation and her friends decided to walk her up the stairs.
When they reached the top of the stairs, her friends said a simple prayer over her.
The next day when the same hour struck, she felt no fear. The dread had completely disappeared and has not returned since.
“The incident reminded me how powerful prayer is. The Lord hears us even in the simplest of prayers,” said Angie.
While Angie was recuperating and on maternity leave, she asked God what He wished for her to do during this time.
“Talk to your clients and tell them what happened to you,” He told her.
Angie felt an urgency to follow His instructions, since she had experienced the transience of life.
She dug up her mobile phone and saw that she had received over 100 messages from her Pilates clients who were asking after her. She realised that they had not been informed about her medical emergency, but had just been told that she was on maternity leave.
“We are able to enter grief and suffering with others in a deeper way. Our words hold more weight.”
With the energy to call only one client a day, Angie took this as her daily assignment from God, seeking Him on who He wanted her to call each day.
It was more than an accountability call. For some, she would just share what happened. For others, she would be led by the Spirit to share with them how God had brought her through the ordeal.
“I was quite disoriented and could not structure my thoughts well, but He gave me the words,” said Angie. In the past, her clients knew she’s a Christian but she had always kept things “professional”.
But as a result of her obedience to Christ, both she and her clients found a safe and healing space to talk honestly.
Some clients also opened up about their struggles and a few teared as they recounted losing their loved ones due to illness.
Adrian pointed out that they found themselves living out their wedding verse, which was 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “… The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”.
“We are able to share where the Lord is when we are in the centre of the storm.”
The couple found themselves in the midst of loved ones who were also struggling with pain and suffering.
A close friend of theirs slipped into a coma for nine months after having an accident, and died thereafter. One of his children is their godson.
Adrian’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and they also found out that their friend’s child had to go for brain surgery to remove a cyst.
Said Adrian: “A friend told us that, because of what we ourselves went through, we are able to enter grief and suffering with others in a deeper way. Our words may hold more weight and have greater ability to encourage as we have experienced fire and endured suffering.”
Now, they find themselves more acutely sensitive to the suffering of others and more open to journeying with them. Others are also more receptive to their ministering.
“We are able to share where the Lord is when we are in the centre of the storm. When we talk about what He has done for us, it is sharing the hope that He is able to do the same for you. Or sometimes, simply being present is enough,” said Adrian.
Though they now have a newfound ministry and purpose, struggles still remain.
For Adrian, there are dark days when depression rears its head. He knows what it feels like to live life on the edge, when disaster could be just a phone call away.
“I start asking the ‘whys’, that if He is sovereign and He can do what He wants, then what is the point of us? But I recognise that His grace on my life is that He has not allowed me to fall away from Him or shake my fist and be bitter,” said Adrian.
“We have come out of this experience fundamentally changed. We have been awakened.”
Instead, he renews his mind and hope in the Lord whenever such thoughts come.
“We have come out of this experience fundamentally changed. We have been awakened even more to our relationship with Him and the purpose we are put here for,” said Adrian.
Angie has since returned to work – even setting up her own studio in March. She functions well, though her brain trauma has resulted in her being much more forgetful as well as less able to handle stress.
However, her intimacy with God has deepened.
Despite having served as a drummer in the worship team for more than two decades in the past, the lyrics of some of the worship songs never resonated or convicted her as much as they do now.
Whenever she sings the lines from the song “Goodness of God”, which goes, “You have led me through the fire/In the darkest night/You are close like no other”, she is brought to her knees as she has experienced its truth.
She also sees her ministry in a fresh, new way.
“I don’t need to serve in a structured ministry in church or be a superhero pastor or drummer before I can minister to others. There is beauty in the quiet, hidden ministry of reaching out to anyone God sends our way, whether it is my clients or anyone who is grieving or hurting,” said Angie.
“I just need to make myself available, with the time that I have left.”
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