UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

Andrea & Charlie Knoll

Imagine being diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. Then, imagine six days later finding out you were pregnant. Sound too incredible to be true? That's exactly what happened to Andrea Knoll.

"I felt a lump in my breast earlier that summer when I was breastfeeding my first child, Grady," says Andrea. "At the time I didn't think anything about it, but ended up having it tested later on." The lump tested positive for cancer, so Andrea scheduled a consultation with Daniel Kollmorgen, M.D., surgical oncologist with The Iowa Clinic, and Medical Director at John Stoddard Cancer Center. On the morning of her appointment, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. After receiving both heart-wrenching and joyous news within the span of days, Andrea and her husband, Matt, considered their options.

"At seven weeks pregnant, there were fears that my baby would not survive the anesthesia required for the double mastectomy," says Andrea. "But my husband and I decided it was worth the risk."

On January 5, 2010, Dr. Kollmorgen performed a double mastectomy on Andrea at Iowa Methodist. Both she and her baby did well. In March 2010, Andrea began undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Although chemotherapy does not harm the baby, it can cause dehydration, which can lead to premature delivery. While the chemotherapy treated her breast cancer, it was taking a toll on her unborn child, causing her to become dehydrated and have contractions. Andrea continued undergoing chemotherapy every three weeks until May, when her contractions became worse.

"I required constant hydration, which I received via IV," says Andrea. "However, when I began having contractions after my second chemotherapy treatment, I knew it would be an uphill battle."

As her contractions progressed, Andrea was admitted to Iowa Methodist Medical Center for monitoring on June 7, 2010. While under observation, her water broke, and she started having contractions one and a half minutes apart. It was then that Andrea felt guilt for what had happened.

"I had put my baby through so much already with the surgery and my chemotherapy treatments," says Andrea. "I began to question if I had made the right choice. What have I done? Will he make it?"

Suddenly, Andrea's contractions stopped. From that point forward, Andrea was put on bed rest. "Andrea was the best patient we could have had," says Ashley Adams, RN, BSN, antepartum patient care facilitator at UnityPoint Health - Des Moines. "She did whatever we suggested for her care-she really went the extra mile for her child."

On June 11, 2010, Charlie Knoll was born at just 27 weeks gestation, weighing a mere 2 pounds and 5 ounces. Charlie required a ventilator to assist him with his breathing for a short period, before moving on to oxygen and a nasal cannula. At 36 weeks, Charlie no longer needed supplemental oxygen and soon was able to go home to be with his mom, dad and older brother.

Throughout her pregnancy, surgery and various treatments, Andrea never worried about her care. "As someone who works in the medical field, I was blown away by the care I received," says Andrea. "I had so many specialists from an obstetrician to an oncologist. No matter where I went or what appointment I had, everyone was up to speed with my case; they knew exactly where I was in my care. That's nearly unheard of."

Andrea also underwent surgeries while Charlie was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Blank Children's Hospital, and she remains grateful for the care he received on a daily basis.

"After Charlie's birth, there was so much to cope with, with my follow up surgeries and appointments, as well as raising an 18-month-old child at home," says Andrea. "I knew Charlie was in the best place he could be, and the caring staff helped me find a balance between hospital visits and my home life."

The medical staff also felt close to Andrea after the journey she had been on. "I will always remember Andrea walking into the unit-no matter how tired she was, she always had a smile that could light up a room," says Barb Smith, RNC, NICU nurse at Blank Children's. "She was so strong and courageous throughout everything."

Today, Charlie is a healthy, growing boy at 14 pounds, and Andrea is a proud, healthy mother, thankful for the care she received from the beginning of her medical journey. "Even though there was so much to process, my physicians and staff gave us overwhelming support," says Andrea.

"They were all there for us through a year I'll never forget."