Family comes first for Adam Podlesh

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Adam Podlesh wanted to cry, he wanted to shout and he wanted to do something, but he knew none of that would help. So he paced as doctors and nurses worked to save the life of his wife, Miranda.

The plan Podlesh and his head coach, Mike Tomlin, agreed upon was that he would stay home in Florida, watch his wife deliver their second child, and then join his teammates in training camp a few days later. Instead, Podlesh watched her labor begin. He watched her body start to give out. He watched panic set over the hospital room, heard the words "Code Blue" and wondered if he was about to become a widower.

Miranda went into cardiac arrest and, with a complete placental abruption, the oxygen supply to the baby inside her quickly waned.

As he paced back and forth outside the operating room, his job as an NFL punter and the competition for his job with the Pittsburgh Steelers, never entered his thoughts.

"I thought to myself, at best, I'm going to have a special needs child and wife," he said. "That's basically what was going through my head, and, in all honesty, I was hoping that that would be the case.

"Just keep them alive."

Seven or eight minutes later, a nurse wheeled a healthy Carter Podlesh into the nursery, not the neonatal intensive care unit. That was a relief. The mortality rate for fetuses in women who suffer even a partial placental abruption is 15 times higher than for women without abruptions, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology. Miranda Podlesh was still alive. That was another huge relief. Her blood pressure had dropped sharply during delivery, and her vital statistics wavered precariously.

Although she survived the initial complications, she wasn't out of danger yet.

She was conscious without active painkillers when she felt a doctor cut open her stomach and rip her baby out. Had the delivery taken much longer, Carter would have drowned in her womb. She panicked silently, unable to physically scream, as she was wired to get her heart restarted. Then she drifted in and out of consciousness, asking for her husband and baby when she could.

That day marked the end of the baby's trauma, but not hers.

Her heart was failing. None of them knew that yet.

But Adam knew one thing very clearly -- there was no way he was going back to Pittsburgh, back to football at all, not yet. He wouldn't leave her side until he helped nurse her back to health.

The Podleshes met in Jacksonville, introduced by Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee and his wife. Adam lived there for four years after being drafted by the Jaguars in 2007. He and Miranda started dating in 2009 and moved to Chicago in 2011, when Adam signed a free agent deal with the Bears that included a $2 million signing bonus. After three seasons in Chicago, the Bears released Adam in March, and he signed with the Steelers in April.

In the weeks following Carter's birth, Adam called Tomlin as often as he could to provide updates. While the plan was to arrive at training camp only a week late, what happened on July 26 changed everything.

Tomlin told Adam to take his time. Eventually, Tomlin said more updates weren't necessary.

"If they said you have to come up, I would have just said, 'Release me,'" Adam said. "I needed to stay down here."

Miranda lost so much blood from the placental abruption that she required transfusions. But even afterward, she got worse. She had to be reminded to breathe. Eventually, an oxygen mask wasn't enough to sustain her breathing. Her doctor had to insert a tube in her throat. Her lungs built up so much fluid, doctors thought she had pneumonia. Her skin turned an ashen color, and her family worried they'd lose her.

A doctor told Miranda's mother, Starr Keating, that she would have to go on a ventilator soon if her condition didn't improve.

"I just kept thinking, 'How could things keep getting worse?'" Keating said.

The medical staff caring for her was also perplexed by her deteriorating condition. Myriad tests were administered, until an echocardiogram, which measures heart function, finally solved the mystery. Peripartum cardiomyopathy, a condition that likely began late in her pregnancy, was causing her heart to fail.

"I remember thinking, I was out of it the whole day, but just telling myself to wake up because people were trying to get me to wake up, to take a deep breath," Miranda said. "I remember hearing that, but I couldn't get myself to wake up. I didn't have the energy."

Miranda stayed in intensive care for five days. Either Adam or her mother was always with her. Carter would be wheeled in on a rolling bassinet with a plastic cover to separate him from germs. Adam thought it looked like a tiny motorcade. It was rare to see a baby visit the ICU, and Carter became a little celebrity.

Nurses openly called him a miracle baby.

The Podleshes' daughter, Addison, who turned 2 this month, came to visit once but was terrified by the machines and mask helping Miranda breathe. She cried as she approached, scared, and Miranda cried, saddened by her daughter's fear.

Upon leaving the hospital, Adam, Miranda, Carter and Addison moved in with Miranda's parents. The family's home in Jacksonville has stairs that Miranda wouldn't yet be able to climb. She had to stay in bed and keep her activity to the absolute minimum. Nursing her newborn was complicated because of the medication.

It was Adam who woke up to feed Addison mini muffins for breakfast and give her water with a splash of lemonade after she awoke at 5:30 or 6 a.m. He made sure she was watching appropriate television shows. He brought Carter to Miranda and changed the baby's diaper when that time came.

Eight times a day, he brought Miranda various medications. She took a diuretic to remove excess fluid, potassium to replace what was lost from the diuretic, a medication intended to slow and strengthen her heartbeats and two antibiotics.

Other family members helped, too. Neighbors brought hot dinners. Everyone had to watch Miranda to keep her from trying to help cook or clean up afterward. Her inability to do anything on her own frustrated her. As a former nurse, she was used to taking care of others, not having others take care of her.

"We feel very fortunate that Miranda met Adam," said her father, Ken Keating. "In these stressful times, he just has a natural way, his priorities were in the right place during this whole challenge."

Adam made sure Miranda's only challenge was helping her heart rediscover its strength.

Today, Miranda Podlesh looks like a healthy, 30-year-old mother of two. She's now independent enough that Adam felt comfortable resuming training in September and now feels ready to work out for teams.

Podlesh is grateful for the way the Steelers treated him. The team initially kept Adam on the reserve/did not report list, because that allowed him to return to the team at any time. As the season began, though, they moved on to punter Brad Wing.

When Adam felt ready to return, he took himself off the DNR list, and the Steelers released him, allowing him to become a free agent on Sept. 30. The in-season demand for punters usually depends on injuries, and he might have to wait until next season to play again.

While the Minnesota Vikings continue to pay Adrian Peterson as he goes through the legal process after being accused of child abuse, and while the Carolina Panthers continue to pay Greg Hardy as he appeals a domestic violence conviction, Podlesh was owed nothing.

After public and sponsor outcry, Peterson and Hardy were placed on the commissioner's exempt list, which calls for players to keep their salary. Being on the reserve/did not report list meant Podlesh had to forgo paychecks when he chose to stay home to take care of his family. Adam retains NFL health insurance through 2019, but the future of his career remains uncertain.

It all makes Miranda feel guilty, even though she couldn't control any of it.

Thinking about that, tears filled her eyes as she sat on her mother's couch one afternoon in September. She wasn't thinking about her painful delivery, her recovery or how difficult the past several weeks had been for her.

"Just burdening everybody," she said, softly, as her husband reaches over to her. "I feel responsible for taking him from his job and what he needs to do."

All the way back to when she was recovering in the ICU, she's often shared that feeling with Adam.

"It wasn't even something that we thought about," he said. "It was just the reaction. I keep reassuring her. We kept reassuring her. ... I even said it, 'You did the same thing for me.'"

It wasn't the hypothetical, "You would do the same thing for me." Four years ago, Adam was diagnosed with cancer. Miranda, then his girlfriend, took a leave from her job to fly from Jacksonville to Philadelphia, where he was being treated, to care for him.

When the Podleshes reflect on the events of the past few months, they feel lucky.

"To put it very bluntly, Carter shouldn't be alive if you look at it statistically, and [Miranda] most likely shouldn't be alive, looking at it," Adam said. "If a different move had been made at X point, at Y point, at Z point, neither of them would have been here."

Said Miranda: "Everything just seemed to go in our favor. At first, your reaction is to kind of blame, 'Oh, did this cause it or did so and so cause it by giving this med?' You try to think of what made that happen and how they're related. But when you take a step back, you realize, all these things went right for us."

Most critically, Miranda's primary obstetrician was already at the hospital when she went into labor -- on a typical Saturday, he wouldn't have been there. This allowed him to quickly perform surgery, a factor which might have been the difference between life and death for both Miranda and Carter. She was told there wasn't anyone else able to perform the surgery at the hospital at that time, and she could have bled to death, realizing Adam's deepest fear.

Instead, their family is whole.