“Nothing Breaks Like A Heart…AKA, “[Don’t] Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Baby”

Waaaaaay back when I was born, my mother was told that I had a slight heart murmur that I would most likely grow out of. I did.

In college, too much stress + bad food choices + lack of sleep + tooooooo much caffeine = Cardiac Arrhythmia, which eventually resolved. Everything was juuuuuust fine….

Until it wasn’t.

In 2006, I became pregnant with my first child. As a first-time mom, my complaints of, “Hey, I really can’t breathe too well,” and “Um, Doc? I can’t get enough breath support to sing,” were written off as new-mom, “well, what do you expect? You have a human pressing on your diaphragm,” rhetoric and explained away (I’m just a woman, Mr. Doctor. What do I know?).

2 months before I was due, I started seeing double, having migraines, and throwing up. Basic science diagnosed me with severe preeclampsia, and do you know what the “cure” for preeclampsia is? Delivery. So, my daughter was delivered 6 weeks early, and I was “gonna be just fine, ma’am,” said Mr. Third-Generation-I-Know-Everything OB-GYN….

Until it wasn’t.

2 days after I delivered, I couldn’t breathe…coughing and choking on top of a C-section incision is no fun. My sister ran for help, my mother prayed in tongues at the top of her lungs, and the nurses (who were in the middle of changing shifts, as of course, I have fantastic timing) & doctors realized I was in severe congestive heart failure. Over 20 pounds of fluid were drained out of my heart and lungs in the next 24 hours, and I went in for the fight of-and-for my life….while also trying to be a new mom to a premature infant.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy with congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension became the noose of a diagnosis that hung around my neck for the next 6 years as I went from specialist-to-specialist, trying to find a cardiologist that would both “fix” me, and would work with me as I wanted to try to have another child.

Once the heart has been blown up in CHF (my left ventricle was three times the size of the rest of my heart. I like to call it, “Grinch Syndrome.”), it tends to sort of hang around like a balloon that’s been overstretched. It’s kinda gross, if you think about it. My heart was literally broken in every possible way….by my body, by grief, by everything.

Image result for grinch's small heart grew

So, I had a few years of echocardiograms, medications, etc., until I found a doctor at Missouri Baptist that ordered more tests and found that my heart issues, outside of blood pressure, had miraculously resolved. I didn’t have any of the long-term problems they expected me to have, and we went on to have Jericho with the help of infectious disease specialists, cardiologists, perinatologists, and a whoooooole lotta grace from God….but it wasn’t without consequences.

As expected, even with a strict regiment of really miserable medications, I went into heart failure towards the end of my pregnancy with Jericho, and was rewarded with a lengthy hospital stay. After delivery, and after promising to never try to have any other children, I have a continued medication regiment that I’ve stayed on, and will be on for the rest of my life. I have my son; I have ZERO regrets.

The meds work great! Most of them are the same ones I’ve been on since 2006, with very few side effects, and with positive results. My CHF numbers stay low (the key number is the ejection fraction for the left ventricle. I’ve been under 10% before. My current numbers are around 40-50%, which is almost normal). My weight has been a challenge (particularly in the post-thyroid world), but has stayed in the same general area since my first pregnancy (give or take 40#. I gain, I lose, I gain, etc.), and my blood pressure stays under control with medication…it’s all working, which is crucial.

SO, why am I telling this story? Why does it matter? It matters, because YOU matter. 1 in 3 women in America are dealing with some sort of heart disease–that’s more than all other cancers, combined: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women

Per the Go Red for Women campaign, “80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.” That’s what we can do. That’s what I can do–I can share my story, and maybe help others to become aware of the resources, the signs and symptoms, and the protocols that can help them understand heart disease more clearly. Knowing is the first step of prevention, right?

Today, my heart is functioning pretty darn well. In fact, I really don’t think about it very often, which is awesome when you consider that at one point, it was ALL I thought about…I couldn’t go up the stairs in my own home without feeling like I was going to pass out! I don’t have any limitations from cardiac issues, and I don’t worry about it…but I AM very conscious of it, and of paying attention to it when something seems “off.” I had some episodes last year of almost passing out. I wanted to ignore them, but I know better, so I called my cardiologist. Turns out, my blood pressure medication needed a simple adjustment….it was nothing complicated, and a simple phone call, and listening to my body, made all of the difference.

Take care of your heart, people. It really is the engine that drives you…and we all know that if the engine is broken, you’re not going anywhere. Love your heart….Live Fierce…and Go Red for Women!!!

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