VANCOUVER -- A new mom in Vancouver said she owes her life to a specialized team of medical professionals at St. Paul’s Hospital.

At seven months pregnant, Japleen Gill unexpectedly faced a life-threatening heart infection, and underwent an extremely rare procedure days after giving birth last fall.

“I’m here because of them,” Gill said. “I’m just so thankful that despite all of the scariness and the severity of the surgeries, that it was such a positive experience.”

The then-30-year-old was in her second trimester when she began feeling ill, including respiratory problems and painful swelling. Gill also had a pre-existing heart condition that had been monitored throughout her life.

“A bicuspid aortic valve, since I was born,” she said. “I was followed regularly by a cardiologist...but it was so mild, and I lived a very normal, active life, that I didn’t really think it could have been my heart.”

The director of the cardiac obstetrics program at St. Paul’s Hospital, Dr. Jasmine Grewal, explained the heart’s aortic valve functions like a door.

“It opens to allow blood out of the heart," she said. “Instead of having three doors comprising that, she had two.”

At a routine checkup on Sept. 28, Grewal said things suddenly took a serious turn when an infection was found in Gill’s aortic valve.

“All of a sudden, she’d gone from being low risk in terms of her underlying heart condition, to now high risk,” Grewal said.

Gill was immediately admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit, and said she was “worried mostly for my baby."

“Whether he was going to be OK, if the infection was putting him at risk,” Gill said. “I just had to take everything hour by hour, day by day.”

Clinical nurse educator Jenna Baumgartner said medical teams began working together quickly in response to Gill’s urgent situation.

“Within an hour, we had plans and backup plans and equipment, everything sorted out,” she said, and added Gill was included in the planning process. “She’s just so strong, and she participated in all the discussions.”

On Oct. 2, Jeevan was born by C-section two months early and healthy before being taken to the BC Children’s Hospital neo-natal intensive care unit.

Gill said she got to see him before he was transferred.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I couldn’t really touch him. I could see him from side of the bed. And he was just so little.”

Three days later, Gill was in the operating room again, this time undergoing heart surgery.

Heart surgeon Dr. Jamil Bashir performed the rare procedure, and repaired the damaged area using an aorta from a deceased person.

“It’s very complex, because of the destruction that’s there,” Dr. Bashir said, and added they were even prepared to intervene at Jeevan’s birth, if necessary. “The room was packed from wall to wall with different teams...paediatricians, we had the obstetricians, anesthesia, lots of nursing and my team as well, the heart surgery team.”

Gill and her son grew stronger, and were eventually reunited when she got to visit him at Children’s Hospital.

“He really inspired me to go through the second surgery,” she said.

Now at home together months later, Gill said she’s eternally grateful.

“I felt very cared for,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry.”