My Heart Story
My heart story is similar to a lot of women who find out they have cardiovascular issues while pregnant…luckily for me, I found out before it was too late.
I was unaware of my rheumatic heart disease until I was 29 years old, pregnant and experiencing congestive heart failure (CHF). The unfortunate thing is that I (nor my APRN midwife) did not know I was in heart failure at the time because the warning signs of CHF closely resembles known pregnancy symptoms. My symptoms included shortness of breath, rapid weight gain, swollen fluid filled feet, higher than usual blood pressure, fatigue and trouble sleeping but they were all dismissed as expected pregnancy symptoms.
Unfortunately that was not the case and on March 22nd 2011 what was supposed to be a routine 35 week prenatal office visit turned into a day filled with multiple tests, screenings, and lots of worrying, tears and unanswered questions. The ultrasounds and stress tests revealed that my baby stopped growing at 30 weeks, her heart rate was very week and that an emergency C-section was needed to save her life.
Still no one knew I was in heart failure.
The C-Section was successful and my daughter who was severely IUGR was born weighing 2lbs 12oz. She was in the NICU and all the focus was on her health and survival. The following night after my emergency C-Section I had trouble sleeping and breathing became difficult. I reported it to the hospital staff and they brought in a respiratory team to give me a nebulizer treatment.
The following morning they sent me to do an echocardiogram and that was when it was discovered that I had fluid buildup in my lungs and that I had scaring on my valves, which indicated rheumatic heart disease. The seriousness of my condition was downplayed and they gave me some Lasix to help to diurese me.
That night I realized how serious my situation was when I went into respiratory distress, which required emergency lifesaving intervention including a large dose of IV Lasix. I was transferred from the maternity unit to the cardiac step down unit and officially became a cardiac patient.
This was a devastating time for my family as my 2 day old premature baby was in the NICU and I was in the cardiac unit trying to figure out what was happening. I was so scared and didn’t fully understand what was happening to me but I had to remain strong for my baby who was still in the NICU.
I was discharged from the hospital a week later and referred to a cardiologist and that was where my cardiac journey began. My Cardiologist confirmed that I had mitral valve regurgitation and stenosis, aortic valve regurgitation and tricuspid valve regurgitation. I was devastated. He did not know if it was the pregnancy and the hemodynamic shift that caused my disease to worsen so he decided to follow-up with me after a year to see what my post pregnancy echocardiogram would reveal.
Sadly, a year later my follow-up echocardiogram revealed that the mitral valve regurgitation was severe and there was some heart enlargement as a result.
After consulting with my cardiologist and doing my research the decision to repair my valve was made and on December 11th 2012 I underwent my first open heart surgery. It was terrifying. I felt a lot of emotions because I always saw myself as a healthy person and did not expect that I would need to undergo heart surgery at the tender age of 31 years old. The heart valve repair was successful and after a 3-6 month recovery period I was cleared to continue living my life as an active 31 year old.
I felt the ordeal was over but surprisingly when I went in for a routine echocardiogram in October 2015, I learned that the mitral regurgitation had returned and the repair did not hold up. I was devastated. I was so angry and had a lot of questions about why my previous mitral valve repair did not last for more than 3 years. At that point, the decision was made to replace the troubled valve and on May 6th 2016 I underwent my second open heart surgery. I opted for a tissue prosthetic valve, which means I am guaranteed a 3rd surgery in the coming years due to my age and the fact that tissue valve deteriorates faster in younger people.
There is nothing I could have done to prevent myself from rheumatic heart disease but I want to help to educate others about the importance of living a healthful lifestyle. I want to share my story in the hope that I can encourage other women to take charge of their health to help prevent heart disease and other preventable chronic conditions.