Volunteer of the Month Spotlight - May 2011
Heather Curtis, Community Forum Director
What was your experience with preeclampsia?
I had hypertensive complications and delivered at 37 weeks with all three of my children. I've been very luck that my personal experience with the disease has been mild. I spent one week on hospital bed rest before being induced with my first; I was induced as soon as I was diagnostic with my second; and I was on "house rest" and labetalol from 35 weeks with my third. My highest blood pressures were in the 180s/100s, but I was lucky that those readings were only spikes, and for the most part I stayed in the 140s/90s range. My firstborn spent four days in the NICU because of high MgS04 levels, but my other two babies roomed in with me. They were all small - 5lbs 8oz; 6lbs, 14oz; and 5lbs, 12oz - but today they are all healthy.
How aware were you about pre-e before/during your pregnancy?
I had zero awareness or understanding of preeclampsia during my first pregnancy, and the information the doctors and nurses gave me in the hospital was contradictory and confusing. After my son was born and I read a lot more, I realized that I knew one woman who had suffered eclampsia and a stroke, but I didn't make the connection to preeclampsia until much later.
After my son was born I spent (at last count) over 4000 hours reading medical journals, other articles written by preeclampsia experts, hospital information websites, nursing flowsheets, and the Community Forums, trying to understand what had happened to me and my son. I was much better informed when my blood pressure went up in my second and third pregnancies! Reading is never a substitute for experience, so I also talked with my doctor a lot about her treatment plan for me during my pregnancies, and whenever I answer questions, I always tell people to check with their own doctors to confirm or refute what I've read!
What volunteer positions have you held? Why do you volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation?
I have been a moderator with the Preeclampsia Foundation Community Forums for over three years, and I've just accepted the Administrator / Team Lead position for the Forums.
I started volunteering because I know how scared and lost and confused I felt when I was hospitalized and induced in my first pregnancy. Preeclampsia is such a confusing disease and I didn't even know what questions to ask. The Forums is a place where women can share our experiences and what we've learned about the disease - what our doctors tell us, what the experts say in "Ask the Experts", and information from the main PF webpages, what we read in medical journals, and anything else we can find. The combined brainpower of all of us has helped me understand the disease and treatment so much better than I could ever learn on my own.
I have continued to volunteer because the Forums is much more than just educating one another and understanding the disease. Our members share information and support with mothers whose babies have died because of preeclampsia complications, mothers who are trying to conceive again after hypertensive pregnancies, and mothers who are pregnant again after a previous hypertensive pregnancy. We are also around to support fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles... We also talk about the emotional and physical aftereffects and future risks (like having double the risk of chronic heart disease later in life) following hypertensive pregnancies.
Preeclampsia touches so many aspects of our lives that I think it is incredibly valuable and vital to have a safe place where we can share good information and support one another.
What has been your most gratifying moment as a Foundation volunteer?
I am so glad any time I see Forum members continue to post because they've received support and information and want to do the same for others, and any time a member comes back to let us know that we've helped. Also, I've been using the Internet for a long time, and the Community Forums are one of the kindest and most supportive online communities I've ever seen. I've been very happy to be a part of that.
In a larger sense, I'm very gratified to see a changing attitude about preeclampsia on the Internet. When I first started reading about preeclampsia in 2003 I had a hard time finding good information about the disease.