Family’s Joy Turns to Grief : Tragedy: Days after delivering twins, a Corona mother of four is felled by a rare condition that has left her near death. Her husband shares the pain.


Dawna Munson and her husband were just about to sit down for a special room service dinner at the Placentia-Linda Community Hospital, eager to celebrate Dawna’s textbook pregnancy and the birth of healthy twin girls. She was due to go home the next day, Aug. 11.

But just before the meal arrived, Dawna began to feel sick. In minutes, a crushing chest pain dropped her to her knees where she rocked in a fetal position, the pain’s overwhelming intensity rendering her unable to communicate.

Within hours, the 34-year-old woman’s vital organs had inexplicably begun to shut down and she was airlifted to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where today she remains on life support systems, the odds stacked against her recovery.


“It went from bliss one day to sheer . . . I just cannot describe the feeling,” said Dawna’s husband, David Munson, his voice trailing off. “She was in great spirits; she was even hungry. Then, she looked at me and said she felt sick.”

The new mother had been struck with an unusual form of toxemia or pre-eclampsia, found generally in pregnant women. Doctors say the condition, for which there is no known cause, has virtually stopped all normal liver, kidney and lung functions.

Munson said more than 20 physicians are working directly or as consultants on the case at UCI, where a myriad of breathing, medication and feeding tubes have been keeping the woman alive since the condition hit her about three weeks ago.

Dr. Mark Morgan, a specialist in fetal medicine at UCI, said the disorder strikes about 6% of pregnant women and is even more rare after birth.

“It’s not known what sets it off,” Morgan said. “Whoever finds out what causes this disorder will win the Nobel Prize.”

Nearly overshadowed by their mother’s illness, the healthy twins born Aug. 9, Haley and Skyler, arrived home two weeks ago to join 4-year-old brother Will and a sister, McKenna, who is almost 2. The days since that bittersweet homecoming have been a blur for the children’s father, on leave from his job as a manager of a restaurant chain.


“The doctors tell us she cannot get any sicker,” Munson said Thursday from his home in Corona, oblivious to the chaos of constant phone calls and the demands of child care now being managed by relatives and a corps of neighbors. “I just have faith. She’s a fighter. She has every reason to live. I can’t imagine her not coming back.”

Shortly after her admittance to UCI, Munson said, his wife’s condition had become so grave that doctors told him that she had only about a 1% chance of survival. They now speculate her recovery chances are somewhere between 10% and 20%.

“At one point, the swelling was so bad I could not believe it was my wife,” Munson said, describing the condition that accompanies the disease.

On his visits to the hospital, communication from his mate of eight years has been reduced to scribbled notes, a wiggle of her eyebrows or tears welling in her eyes.

“I just know she’s gonna turn around,” he said.

Between the time spent at his wife’s bedside, David Munson travels to interview candidates who could provide live-in child care for the children, the oldest of whom is now beginning to ask questions about his mother’s condition.

“Out of the blue, he (Will) asked me about the liver, then heaven and God,” Munson said. “We had never talked about that before.”


Another worry has been how far the family’s health insurance will stretch to cover the medical expenses.

“The other day I went down to check out the bill,” he said. “It was $250,000. I just had to laugh. I’m sure we’ll reach our limit at some point.”

Still, there has hardly been a time when Munson or his wife have been left to deal with the situation alone. His wife’s sister from Oklahoma and her mother have been there for baby-sitting, preparing meals or to provide company for his wife.

“I know she can hear us,” said Nancy Hermann, Dawna’s sister. “We talk to her, massage her hands and feet, comb her hair.”

News of her illness traveled quickly through the neighborhood and to nearby Riverside, where Dawna was Arlington High School’s Class of 1975 homecoming queen, Hermann said.

Munson said the support from relatives and neighbors has been overwhelming. A chart to schedule child-care duties, until a live-in arrives, has been established, and the preparation of meals is rotated among 15 neighbors and friends.


“Everybody knows everybody,” said neighbor Annette Hoody of the relatively new hillside community. “They have some enormous needs. Everybody is doing as much as they can.”

Hoody said donations of money prompted neighbors to open a bank account in the family’s name to help with expenses.

At the center of this fury of activity and emotional swings, Munson said he has learned to follow the advice of doctors who have urged him not to look far past the present.

“My sister-in-law and I had some nights where we just sat and cried,” Munson said. “Now, I don’t have time to cry. We just have to be cheerleaders and root her on.”