an anatomical heart grabs a pregnant woman from behind with a very worried look on its face

Pretty Lady Chronicles: I Have Pregnancy Induced Heart Failure (Part 1)

I was 28 years old, a single mother, and ready to dive into the unknown. I’m still in my prime, or so I thought. I was excited about the opportunities and adventures a new city would bring, and I decided to make a major move. Along with my 8-year-old and 2-month-old sons, and bags packed, I headed south and left my Midwest roots behind.

Struggling to settle in

A few weeks after the move, I found myself struggling to settle in. Not because of doubt or fear, but something was off. I felt sluggish and I would easily tire out. You know that fatigued, no energy sort of feeling. I remember telling an acquaintance at the time that something was wrong. “You just had a baby,” she said. “Your body was out of whack for nine months. You need to give it nine months to get back on track.” Her assurance didn’t ease the worrying, which turned out to be my intuition.

I feared going to the doctor. Something was not right. I had already told myself and others that if I went to the hospital they were going to keep me. I didn’t realize the power in those words.

Putting fear aside

The changing of seasons brought more than just colder temperatures that December. In a matter of weeks, the symptoms I had been concerned about seemed to only worsen as I feared I had the flu. I was no longer able to ignore my health.

I made my way to the emergency room, only to find it full. It seemed everybody had the flu! I would finally be called back to go through a quick examination.  After some routine questions and a listen with stethoscopes, I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. There were no x-rays, which I should’ve demanded. The doctor gave me a prescription, and instructions I will never forget. “Allow this medication to work for three days. Do not come back before three days.” I left, got my prescription filled, and hoped for the best.

The diagnosis

Instead of things turning for the better, they turned for the worst. After being on medication for two days, I could hardly take six or seven steps without feeling like I would pass out. I couldn’t lay flat in the bed, because my breathing would almost completely stop. Needing to return to the E.R. I called a friend. I was nearly in tears as I told her, “If I go to sleep, I’m not going to wake up.”

A return trip to the E.R. was met with silence.  There was no one there.  I was taken back to be examined.  I knew I couldn’t lay flat. So, after changing I sat in a chair, leaned over, and rested my head on the bed. With plenty of vacancies, the doctor made his way to my exam room rather quickly. Again, routine questions and then comes the stethoscope. I can still remember how I struggled to breathe in and out. The doctor immediately ordered x-rays, scans, and bloodwork. From the very beginning, this visit was different.

It all happened rather quickly. My results were in. “You have CHF (congested heart failure), a hole in one of your lungs, pneumonia, and peripartum cardiomyopathy or PPCM also known as pregnancy-induced heart failure.”

Shock and disbelief

What do you mean I have heart failure? As this information is still settling in, nurses and doctors explained the severity of my condition. My heart function or ejection fraction was only 26%! I was being admitted to the ICU.

I can’t be admitted. What about my children? I called my mother back home and broke the news. She headed for the airport. There was some hope in sight. My mother had pink eye and couldn't take a flight. Those hopes were diminishing. Really!

I explained to the medical staff that I couldn’t stay. Once my mother arrived to care for my children, I would return. All hell broke loose. At first, my nurse tried to persuade me to stay. Friendly persuasion quickly turned into threats and intimidation. They would report me for child endangerment.Child endangerment? Yes, by refusing care for myself that would somehow be neglectful and an endangerment to my children.

What's next?

What’s really going on? I’ll be right back in two days.  My nurse cautioned me, “If you leave, we can’t guarantee that you will live to see two days.” I was just here two days ago. “The doctor told me not to come back for three days. What if I hadn’t come back?” The nurse looked at me and said, “Only God knows.”

As you can imagine, I lost it! I’m still young, a mother, my life is just beginning. Morning arrived, and my children were in the waiting room with a friend. My eight-year-old son came back to see me. I embraced him and lost it all over again. As we both cried, I realized I had to pull it together for them.

With this new diagnosis of heart failure, I still had no idea just how much our lives would be altered forever.

- Tina Marie


Check out the next article in this series, I Have Pregnancy Induced Heart Failure – Part 2.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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