a woman is alternately laughing and dismayed

PPCM Changed My Life: I Don’t Have Heart Disease – or Do I?

Editor's note: This is part 1 of 3 in a series. Part 2 is titled PPCM Changed My Life: I Almost Died - UNNECESSARILY! and part 3 is called PPCM Changed My Life: My Fight Isn't Over, I'm a PPCM Survivor!

Newly married. A newborn. A new medical condition – END STAGE HEART FAILURE!

New beginnings

That’s what my life was like from 2017 to 2018. I just married my best friend, and we were so excited to be welcoming our newest addition to the family. We worked through the highs and lows of creating a blended family. Just the thought of having this common bond between the two families gave us so much joy and hope. Our children were excited! We started making plans and anxiously anticipating our bundle of joy.

We knew there would be some risks because I was an “older” mother. Being over the age of 40 came with inherent risks, and as such, I was even more aware of things that were going on in my body. I went to every appointment, including going to a perinatal specialist. That is what we “older” mothers have to do. Given my age, my doctor and I scheduled a Cesarean on the due date. All went as planned, and we went home a few days later.

Getting back to normal

After a while back home, my husband and I decided to take the younger of our children (without the infant) to see the highly anticipated, critically acclaimed “Black Panther.” As an African American, the idea of my children having a popularized action hero with which they could identify excited me. We went to the movie theater and sat at the top in the back - that’s when I noticed something was wrong. While walking up the steps, I realized I was really out of breath! WHOA!

What's happening to me?

Was I still a little out of shape? It was a LONG staircase. I just gave birth and knew I still had to lose weight. I tried to brush it off, but I couldn’t. The next day, I realized I was out of breath just walking up the stairs from my front door into my home. This was a major concern because I lived in a split-level home. So now, instead of walking up 20 or more steps, I was only walking up FIVE! I felt like I was in my third trimester ALL OVER AGAIN!

It just so happened that I had my 6-week postpartum exam a few days later, so I mentioned what I was experiencing to my OBGYN. Since I had a history of asthma, she suggested that I try my inhaler should it happen again, because it may be that exercise was causing an asthma flare-up. I tried that – but to no avail. In fact, when I went to sleep that night, I woke abruptly woke up midway through gasping for air. I tossed and turned until I was able to doze back off. I called my doctor the next day to say what happened and she suggested I go to a cardiologist.

A cardiologist?! I was shocked. I never had heart problems, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. I had no pre-existing conditions that would suggest heart problems. Sure, I had medical conditions in the past, like a gall bladder removal, and I was even diagnosed with slight thyroid problems, but nothing that warranted regular medication. I wasn’t the perfect picture of health, but I definitely wasn’t the poster child for heart disease – or so I thought.

The diagnosis

I made the appointment with the cardiologist as suggested. I went in like it was any other day – a smile on my face and hopes that whatever was going on was minor. Boy was I wrong! The cardiologist ran some tests and then came to deliver me the news. “How are you even here?” he said. What?! I looked at him with a confused look because I felt fine – just a little winded. The cardiologist went on to tell me that I was in END STAGE HEART FAILURE! That’s right – not a little heart trouble – no. Not the first stage – uh uh… I had skipped stages 1 -3 and went straight to stage 4 – END STAGE HEART FAILURE!

I could not process it

I was in such disbelief that I giggled a little bit. The doctor proceeded to tell me that with my heart functioning the way it was, he was surprised that I was not already in the hospital. I was baffled. He went on to tell me that I would probably need a transplant. I said, “WHOA! I’m going to need you to take a few steps back sir.” You see, I could not process what was going on. I told him that I never had any significant medical history – again, not a picture of perfect health, but not a poster child for heart disease.

After some discussion, it was clear that what I expected and what was happening were two very different things. I was in end-stage heart failure. After more tests, the cardiologist was able to determine that not only was I in heart failure, but it was caused by my pregnancy! I had postpartum cardiomyopathy! I thought things couldn’t get any worse – boy, was I wrong!

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