Broken, but Mended by Grace - My personal diagnosis of Peripartum Cardiomyopathy

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This is a personal look at my own diagnosis of Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM). It is a form of heart failure brought on by pregnancy. Its not a completely rare disease, but it is definately a silent one...and one that is not routinely checked for when a woman is pregnant. I hope that by sharing my experience, others will read, share and help get the word out about PPCM, because mother's hearts depend on it.

Submitted: August 13, 2012

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Submitted: August 13, 2012



On January 8, 2012 (after 7 years of waiting, crying and praying) I rode to the hospital with my husband and sister for the most wonderful and momentous occasion ever - I WAS TRANSITIONING FROM MOMMY-TO-BE TO MOMMY! Everyone was so excited. Sure, I had to be induced but hey, at least my Dr was inducing me 3 days early. After checking in down in ER and waddling up (I refused to ride in a wheel chair even though I was out of breath) to Labor and Delivery, I crawled in my bed and got hooked and strapped to my monitor friends.

At 630am I was started on Pitocin and thus, my labor began. By 9am I was wanting a little pain relief, but definitely NOT the epidural as I wanted to do this natural. After a call to the Dr I was told as long as i had dilated to 2cm I could get a shot. Well I was right on the money and shot I received. It helped - for 15 minutes. I was still determined to keep on trucking, and so I did - quietly breathing through my contractions that were about 2 - 4 minutes apart and steadily and VERY rapidly getting stronger. My husband held one hand and my mom (who arrived shortly after the induction started) and sister switched off on the other (because I was squeezing and twisting hands very hard at that point from the pain of my contractions).

Around 11am I couldn't take the pain anymore and asked for an epidural. It took about 20 minutes to get it in, and of course not without hitting some nerves which hurt ALMOST as bad as the contractions, but we finally got it - and BOY what great relief. My entire lower half was numb, I felt high as a kite and even though I was still having super strong monster contractions, I DIDN'T FEEL A THING! My Dr came in shortly after to check my progress and of course labor takes FOREVER so we were guessing 4cm. Well, we were wrong. I had dilated up to 7cm and was going into transition (which explained the sudden intensity of the contractions) so we were all excited - 3 more to go and it was time to push!

At noon I got checked - 8cm! At 1230 I got checked - 8cm. At 1pm I got checked 8cm. I ended up on oxygen and having to roll on my side to see if we could convince this little miracle and blessing to come on out. By 245pm nothing was working. I was stuck at 8cm and so Dr made a judgment call and said we had to go in through door number 2: the c-section. I was okay with it and after some prep work I was wheeled into the OR and at 316pm my beautiful daughter Gwendolyn Grace was born. After getting me stitched up and in recovery, I was finally allowed to really hold her, but it was very brief. Her blood sugar was so low she was almost comatose, and was rushed to NICU. I was wheeled back to my room where family and friends were all ready to congratulate me. I also explained what happened with the baby, and later that evening I was informed that she was doing much better and her IV was working. Eventually everyone left and hubby and I settled in for the night.

The next morning, after being checked by the Dr and being told we should be going home Wednesday, I noticed I didn't feel quite right. It was a little hard to breathe, and I kept coughing, but I didn't think anything of it. I was pumping milk (not very much of course) to send to NICU for my daughter and I told my husband to shut the machine off - I really was having trouble breathing. He did, and ran out to get a nurse. At first there was no real sense of urgency - until I started screaming my head off that I COULDN'T BREATHE. I looked up and there were about 3 nurses rushing in the room.

They kept telling me I was having a panic attack, but I didn't care and kept screaming I CAN'T BREATHE! I CAN'T BREATHE! One of the nurses listened to my lungs and mentioned 'she’s got fluid crackling' which was relayed to the Dr. Someone put an oxygen mask on me and the nurses kept trying to calm me down and then the worst thing imaginable happened - I was suddenly unable to suck in any more air. I was literally drowning in a room full of air. I screamed I DID NOT COME THIS FAR TO DIE!....and then my eyes rolled into the back of my head. Several minutes later it was like someone had opened a valve somewhere and I had a tiny trickle of air to suck in (they injected a diuretic into my IV which was pulling the fluid out of my lungs) and I began to breathe.

I had 2 nurses holding my hand, and I kept saying 'please don't leave me - don't let go of my hand'. They promised they wouldn't - and DIDN'T. I was wheeled to ICU where I had an emergency echocardiogram done on my heart which revealed my heart was functioning around 25%. I was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM) which basically meant that at age 27 I was being diagnosed with a form of Congestive Heart Failure.

I was angry. Why didn't anyone tell me this could happen? What were the warning signs and why was it not caught sooner? So many thoughts ran through my head. Slowly I began to realize I was alive and I get to see my daughter and that I should be thankful. I ended up spending 9 days in the hospital - 3 days in ICU after another episode on the morning of the 10th, 6 days on the cardiac floor for recovery. I went through numerous chest x-rays, a CT scan and a second heart echo. I was put on numerous medications and discharged from the hospital on January 17, 2012 with 8 prescriptions to fill.

I have been through many emotional loops since my diagnosis, but I have also realized how lucky I am to be alive. I have become thankful for the little things and no longer take things for granted. But most importantly I get to see my beautiful daughter (who was actually ready for discharge before I got moved from ICU) everyday. Through this, I learned that both God and Satan have a plan for each and every one of us - and I thank God everyday for overriding Satan's plan. I don't know why I wound up with PPCM, but I am going to use my experience to help bring awareness to the disease. And I encourage everyone that reads this, if you don't have a personal story, share mine with others. Its important to get the word out about this silent killer of mothers - some women actually GO HOME and days, weeks or MONTHS later they are rushed to ER for this disease.....the unfortunate ones not making it. So PLEASE - share my story & help get the word out. Mother's hearts depend on it!


ORTHOPNEA (difficulty breathing while lying flat)
DYSPNEA (shortness of breath on exertion)
PITTING EDEMA (swelling)
EXCESSIVE WEIGHT GAIN DURING THE LAST MONTH OF PREGNANCY (1-2+ kg/week; two to four or more pounds per week)
PALPITATIONS: (sensation of racing heart-rate, skipping beats, long pauses between beats, or fluttering)

The shortness of breath is often described by PPCM patients as the inability to take a deep or full breath or to get enough air into the lungs. Also, patients often describe the need to prop themselves up overnight by using two or more pillows in order to breathe better. These symptoms, swelling, and/or cough may be indications of PULMINORY EDEMA (fluid in the lungs) resulting from acute heart failure and PPCM.


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