What Does a Heart Failure Patient Look Like?

By: DeAnna Stewart

What does a heart failure patient look like? The answer might surprise you. At 35 years of age and two weeks to the day after the birth of my second child, I became the face of heart failure. Not your typical heart failure, but a pregnancy related heart failure patient. It’s called Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM) and I, like thousands of other women, never knew such a condition existed. We never read it in any pregnancy magazine or book or saw a pamphlet in a physician’s office. We were not made aware by our physicians that this was even a possibility.

The pregnancy started off with symptoms I shouldn’t have brushed off but I didn’t know anything about PPCM so I did just that. Extreme fatigue, I couldn’t even hold on to the steering wheel to drive and was told to rest for a couple of days; Inner thigh tendonitis from the fourth month to delivery; increased swelling, especially towards the end; shortness of breath, and a constant nagging feeling of death looming. I didn’t know what it meant or why I was having that feeling but it scared me.

Finally, the home stretch, right? We all look forward to the last months and getting that much closer to seeing our new little one(s). Our daughter Olivia who was four at the time was getting excited. My husband on the other hand had a dream that he had to choose between the baby or I at the hospital. That was scary as heck. So, he was on pins and needles. Especially since I had some weird symptoms throughout the pregnancy. Who knew how close that dream was to come to reality.

William was born on December 31, 2007. Induction was done to keep me from going full preeclamptic and believe me I was ready to burst. He was just so beautiful and perfect. What a perfect little addition to our little family. Bringing our son into the world that day was easy.  However, what to follow was not.

Photo by: DeAnna Stewart

On January 14, 2008, exactly two weeks after giving birth, I was taken to the ER via ambulance. My husband Michael was getting ready to leave for work at 3:30 a.m. as he works 1st shift. I was woken up by a severe heaviness in my chest, so I got out of bed to see if I could shake it off. It just intensified. I flopped on the bed and asked my husband if this is what a heart attack feels like. He asked what I was feeling and I said, “there is an elephant sitting on my chest!” At that moment I knew I had to get downstairs to the living room because if 911 was going to be called I did not want them coming upstairs and waking up our two-week-old son and our four-year-old daughter.

Michael didn’t even know how I got down there but he had called over a neighbor and called 911 by the time he caught up with me downstairs. Our neighbor John came over and held my hand while Michael was on the phone with tears in his voice saying “I think my wife is having a heart attack.” John said, “What do we do?” and my answer was, “I don’t know man, but this hurts like hell!” Soon we could hear the sirens in the distance, and relief and fear both hit me at the same time. What were they going to say? Was I on death’s door?

When the EMTs arrived I was monitored and then quickly put on a gurney and put in the ambulance. They had backed into our driveway. As we were pulling away all I could think, as I looked at our house and towards the second floor where my children were fast asleep was, “will I be back to get to see them again, or is this the last time?”

I spent five hours in the ER waiting for them to figure out what was wrong with me. They tried nitro pills and antacids. An X-ray was done to rule out a pulmonary embolism. No one, not even me expected heart failure. Which is really bothersome if you think about it. Why are people in medicine not trained to look for this condition or even suspect it?

And that is why 10 years after recovering led me to start an organization to help advocate, educate, and make people aware of this condition. After hearing a story about another mom passing away last summer, after only 10 hours with her first born child, she was gone. I literally said “that is it, God we need to save the mommies!” I started Save The Mommies soon after this and it became a 501c3 last fall. A year later, we have been trying to inform those around our communities but people still don’t care to listen, even OBGYN offices. Does the world care that women are needlessly suffering and dying from pregnancy heart failure? Do they know how maternal health care or the lack of it has become a national epidemic? Families are being torn apart and do not need to be. All of this could possibly be avoided if people would just take time to sit down and listen.

Learn more about: Save The Mommies

Photo by: DeAnna Stewart

DeAnna Stewart, President & Founder, Save The Mommies Inc.

A native Nebraskan, DeAnna is married and the mother of two beautiful children. Inspired to start a nonprofit organization to help women from the same condition she suffered from after the birth of her second child. Led by increased concern for her fellow survivors and women around the world from this pregnancy heart failure called Peripartum Cardiomyopathy. DeAnna quickly developed a deep passion for charitable work in this area. Save The Mommies was created by DeAnna to engage the public about this not well known but deadly condition and bring more awareness, education, research to this cause and to help bring financial relief to her fellow survivors and their families who have come under immense financial strain from this unexpected diagnosis of heart failure during or shortly after childbirth.

Topics: Cardiology, Childbirth, Maternal Health, Pregnancy