Fighting For Life: My Story of Post Partum PE and HELLP
Posted On Monday, March 05, 2012 by Anne-Mari
Six days after delivering my second child I awoke to my heart pounding out of my chest and throat, I felt like death, couldnâ€™t breathe, and my right leg was extremely swollen. I assumed the swelling was normal reaction to all the IV fluids from delivery and I was having an anxiety attack from the past months events, but the ER doctor told me a different more frightening story.
Rewind to May 2011, conception. We were thrilled to be pregnant with baby number two. We had our first child May 2010, and looked forward to at least two more. The first five months of the pregnancy were HORRIBLE! I had morning sickness 24/7. I was trying to get off prescription Effexor XR which the doctor gave me for PPD from the first pregnancy. So on top of the morning sickness, I was dizzy, had brain zaps, and was on an emotional roller coaster that was out of control. I was off the effexor by the time I was three months along, and then all I had to contend with was the nausea and that made me feel so much better. Finally at five months I felt great, and because of all the sickness I had only gained five lbs! But that only lasted a few months. At seven months I started to feel extremely tired, lots of lower back pain, headaches, and my BP was elevated to 135/70 which is high for me (110/62) but in normal range. It really wasnâ€™t much to worry about yet, I was just uncomfortable which is normal right?
December 15th, 2011 my husband showed up at my office with news that my grandfather had passed unexpectedly. We took an emergency trip to California from Kansas City the next day to fly out for the funeral. While there, the nausea, contractions and swelling started. I went to my old GP and he tested me for PE as he noticed my bp was high for me 140/74. But to his surprise I tested negative for proteinuria. He suggested that I had early signs of PE and I should not fly, I was 33 weeks. Against doctorâ€™s advice, my family convinced me it was better for me to return home with my husband instead of having daughter Adelaide stay in California with me. We flew home Christmas morning, and three days later I was in the hospital because I had contractions that were three minutes apart. I was 2cm dilated and the contractions stopped so I was sent home, but put on strict bedrest because my bp was 145/80 and I was 34 weeks. This episode continued once a week until finally at week 37 my OB put me out of my misery as I had been dilated to 4cm for over a week and was gaining on average 5 lbs a week. 6 hours later on January 8, 2012 John Manuel was born and I was on cloud nine! I had a son, he was gorgeous, all 7lbs 1.4 oz of him was the most precious thing ever. I felt pretty good too. Each day I felt stronger until day three I started to feel nauseous, weak, and again headaches and swelling. The nurse told me it was normal and we were both discharged Tuesday morning.
The next few days I often awoke gasping for air. I had heart palps and felt like I had the flu. I was exhausted and so weak. Friday I went to the OB who tested me for postpartum thyroiditis, and assured me the racing heart was due to stress and prescribed antidepressants. It made sense, my grandfather just died, my boss was a nightmare, I had a newborn and a 20 months old! I accepted her diagnosis. The following morning I woke up feeling different. This time instead of gasping for air, my heart was beating very slowly and very hard. I felt it in both my throat and chest, it felt like I had an elephant sitting on me because I couldnâ€™t breathe. My right leg was very swollen. We went to ER where they admitted me and bumped me to number one priority. My heart was only 39 beats per minute and bp was 180/90. The ER doc ran several tests and finally sent in an OB specialist who told me /I had severe PE and HELLP. That wasnâ€™t the end of it, she told me they suspected I had peripartum cardiomyopathy (heart damage). Best case was the damage was reversible, worst case I would require a pace maker or transplant. I was distraught, inconsolable. I was afraid to sleep because I thought I may not awake. When the nurses would come into draw blood they couldnâ€™t get any. I was bone dry. I spent the next week in Cardiac telemetry where miraculously the EKG showed a healthy heart, and my symptoms started to correct themselves. The doctors were all stunned, they said it was a miracle. I was lucky because the mag drip wasnâ€™t so bad for me. They took several liters of fluids and I lost 20 lbs.
Today I have been out of the hospital for seven weeks. I still have slight chest pain, heart palps every now and again but my blood pressure is controlled and heart rate is back to normal. I am seeking second opinions on what happened and to ensure heart function is normal, but have decided against future pregnancies because it poses too much of a risk. I had post partum PE with my daughter also, but it was minimal and self corrected.
I thank God everyday for the miracle of life. I also thank my family, friends, and church community for support and prayer, and the amazing medical team I had. I really believe it was a miracle because I had all the signs of congestive heart failure. I would like to point out that my UA test was still negative for PE at that time. Apparently my body didnâ€™t want to give away the news very easily. It wasnâ€™t until they ran a blood test they saw it.
I am making it my mission to educate as many professionals and women as I can about PE and peripartum cardiomyopathy. I had no idea PE could be so horrible, or that it could happen postpartum. I always thought PE just meant you were swollen and had some headaches. I was so ignorant.
If anyone here was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy as a result of PE, I hope you know about the site: http://www.amothersheart.org/ where you can gain more information and support.
I am so grateful for http://www.preeclampsia.org for helping me to understand the condition and educating people about this silent killer.