Pretty Lady Chronicles: I Have Pregnancy Induced Heart Failure - Part 2
Planning for my new normal
Overnight I gained a new family consisting of a nutritionist, physical therapist, pharmacist, nurses, and cardiologist. They all attempted to prepare me as best they could. I learned the importance of heart-healthy balanced meals, exercising, and taking prescribed medications.
After spending a week in ICU, I was discharged. Heart failure caused a disruption like no other. The abrupt lifestyle changes I prepared for became the plan for my new normal.
Understanding my diagnosis
“Will I ever recover?” “How do I recover?” I had no understanding of new words like left ventricle, dilated, and ejection fraction. “What is ejection fraction?” I had so many questions, and even more to learn.
Your heart has two "blood tanks" called the left and right atrium. Beneath each atrium is a smaller pumping chamber called a ventricle. The ventricle's pumping action ejects blood from the right atrium into the lungs and from the left atrium into the arteries that nourish the body with oxygen.1
The stress of pregnancy enlarged my heart, weakened my left ventricle, and reduced my ejection fraction to 26%. I was told a normal ejection fraction was 55-70%. Suddenly, it all made sense. My lack of energy, fatigue, and sluggishness was due to my dilated left ventricle. My heart wasn’t pumping enough blood to my arteries to provide adequate oxygen throughout my body.
I began a regimen of prescriptions that included beta-blockers, diuretics, potassium, and ace inhibitors. These medications would assist with my fluid retention and help blood flow and circulation. I had to follow this plan of action. I wanted to heal my heart.
The medication wasn’t the only fix. There were abrupt changes to my diet. My guidelines were no more than 30g of fat and 2000mg of sodium per day. You must be kidding me? Reducing my daily intake of fat and sodium seemed impossible. I reminded myself, this wasn’t just for me.
Ironically, I became a pro at reading labels. That also meant that I did a lot of shopping alone. I read every single label, so I didn’t blame my friends for not tagging along (lol). Even though this was all new to me, I was getting the hang of it. I could prepare three meals and two snacks daily without going over 30g of fat. I did have a secret motivator. An ICU nurse gave me a warning that turned out to be sound advice. “You have to eat right. If you don’t, you’ll be right back here.”
More than medication and diet
Medication and eating right sounded like enough, right? Wrong. This new plan also meant I had to exercise. I hadn’t exercised in years, but I’d been an athlete and healthy my entire life. This should be like riding a bike. Let me be clear: I was not at the gym lifting weights or bench pressing. I started walking. Yes, it really was that simple. Plus, walking at least 30-minutes a day reduces your risk of heart failure by 30%.2
My new normal
Changes did not come without sacrifice. These sacrifices were big and small. In an instant, I had to stop breastfeeding my son due to medications, accept that I could no longer bear children, and I had to face the possibility of my own mortality as a young single mother. Heart failure still scared me, but I embraced my new normal.
I enjoyed experimenting with meals that consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables. I loved going to the park and taking walks with my sons. Friends asked me to join me in shopping because I had inspired them. I wasn’t sure if my heart was healing. This plan and my new normal were the first steps to healing physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I had become intentional with this new heart-healthy lifestyle and it showed.
Do you use exercise to help manage your heart failure?