Volunteer Profile: Jen Heiniger, Marathon Runner
What was your experience with preeclampsia?
I had severe preeclampsia (PE) and borderline HELLP syndrome with my first pregnancy at 35 weeks. I had warning signs as early as 30 weeks that I reported to my doctor, but he blew me off as a first time mom who didn't know what pregnancy was like. By the time I was diagnosed, I was in heart failure, cerebral edema, and had platelets low enough to qualify for class II HELLP. I was in really bad shape. I was transferred to another hospital, and the doctor there said we should pray the induction worked because a c-section would kill me. My first daughter was born mildly IUGR. She's almost 9 and doing well today.
I found a new doctor who monitored me closely for my second birth. I started showing the same early warning signs at 32 weeks, and was induced at 37 weeks with mild PE. My second daughter was also mildly IUGR and still suffers ill effects at 5 and a half.
We wanted a third child and ended up with twins. Surprise! It was terrifying. I was already at high risk with my history, and here I was carrying multiples. I was diagnosed with PIH at 22 weeks, mild PE at 31 weeks, hospitalized at 33 weeks, and induced at 36 weeks after being on some form of bedrest for 14 weeks. My third daughter and son were NOT growth restricted. (I credit low dose aspirin for that.) A few hours after birth, I slipped into a coma with severe postpartum PE. The worst of it lasted about 24 hours, then started to turn around. Three years later, I'm completely recovered.
How aware were you about preeclampsia before/during your pregnancy?
I had never heard of PE before I was diagnosed in my first pregnancy. I knew something wasn't right, but I trusted my doctor. With my next pregnancies, I learned everything I could, and did my best to advocate for myself and my children. I became an active lurker and occasional poster on the PF's forum during my twin pregnancy, and it was a huge help to have that support.
Why do you volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation? What volunteer positions have you held?
I volunteer for the PF because my daughters and future daughter in law are all at higher risk because I had it. I don't want them to go through what I did, or my grandchildren to be premature and growth restricted.
I trained for a marathon that I used as a fundraiser for the PF. This was my second marathon and ninth endurance race. I ran the Leading Ladies marathon in South Dakota on August 19 of this year. I injured my foot a few weeks before, but had clearance from my doctor to run. I made it 23 miles on a bad foot! I was disappointed not to finish the full 26.2, but I thought back to my births. Sometimes you have to change your plans to ensure the best possible outcome. Thinking of the women I've met through the PF definitely helped me through my training and a brutal race.
I will be joining the planning committee for the Chicago Promise Walk this year. I'm excited to be more involved with that, as well.
What are your goals and dreams for your involvement with the Foundation?
I have a big goal for continuing to run marathons and raise funds and awareness for the PF. (Assuming my foot heals well.) My kids are still young, but in a few years I hope to run a series of races across the country (as of now, it's 11 full marathons and 13 half marathons in one year.) The fundraising is important, but more important is raising awareness all across the country so women have the information they need to get proper care.
I keep a blog about my running and preeclampsia awareness: whatyourunningfor.blogspot.com
What has been your most gratifying moment as a Foundation?
I really enjoy getting to know other mothers and hearing their stories. I hate that we have PE in common, but I hope knowing they're not alone can help them work through what happened as it did for me. I share Survivor Stories on my blog, and several of the women have thanked me for the opportunity to give voice to their experiences.