Twice A Survivor
Like many of those involved with the Preeclampsia Foundation, Kristen Simmons has a unique story of survival, but Simmons' case included a very unusual complication. In July 2009, Simmons developed severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome shortly before the birth of her daughter Sydney. Sydney was born not breathing, but was successfully resuscitated, while her mother bleed internally, going into multi-organ failure. Simmons ended up needing a liver transplant only days after giving birth and was transferred from her home state of New York to a high risk facility in Pittsburgh, where she was placed in a medically-induced coma for weeks.
"Life had changed so drastically it was very hard for me to accept what had happened," Simmons said. "For a long time I couldn't even hold Sydney because of the pain from the transplant. I became very depressed and cried nonstop." To complicate her health even more, less than a year after the trauma of Sydney's birth, Simmons was diagnosed with Stage IV Post Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disease (PTLD) cancer, a very rare cancer that usually occurs in pediatric transplant patients because of their underdeveloped immune system.
"In my case my immune system was so suppressed by the medications that keep me from rejecting my liver, that I developed cancer," Simmons explained. "I underwent 6 rounds of chemo starting June 14th of last year until October 6th... It wasn't easy to get through all of the complications I had, first with the transplant and then the cancer, but my family and friends were there to support me through my whole journey." Although she was given only a 30% chance of survival, Simmons is now cancer-free, citing her daughter Sydney as her main inspiration to get through intensive chemotherapy and keep fighting. The Simmons family's involvement with the Preeclampsia Foundation began when Simmons' husband found the Foundation online while she was in a hospital in Pittsburgh recovering from the effects of preeclampsia and her transplant.
"He spent lots of time on his computer doing research while I was sick," Simmons remembers, "wanting to know more about what really happened with me. I believe my husband had come in contact with Eleni [Tsigas] while I was in the hospital in Pittsburgh and I remember another Foundation volunteer also coming to visit me in the hospital, but I was so very sick I fell asleep during her visit!" She encourages all moms-to-be to ask lots of questions and do lots of reading on their own, laughing that a patient cannot possibly learn everything from a handful of fifteen minute OB-GYN visits.
"We all want to have a textbook pregnancy," she added, "but we have to be aware of the problems that can occur and know the proper way to handle things when they go bad. Follow your gut if you think something is wrong and don't hesitate to have it checked out. When my husband called my doctor's office I was told to drink water and lie down when I had abdominal pain. When my husband asked me if I felt okay about the safety of my baby and me, we went straight to the closest emergency room."
Ultimately, being a twice-over survivor has made Simmons resilient to life's smaller problems. She explained, "Survivors are strong, we think positively, we plan for tomorrow, we try not to dwell on the worst outcome, and we never give up. So many people say they've had a bad day but then when they think about what I've gone through it helps put their life back into perspective."