Volunteer Profile: Melissa Heideman, Mrs. Colorado International

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What was your experience with preeclampsia?

I had preeclampsia with both of my pregnancies. With my first child, I was not made aware of the symptoms of this condition, so when I started having side pains, I just thought I had a cramp, nothing serious. I had gained a significant amount of weight, but had no basis of comparison, so I believed it to be just the nature of being pregnant. I went from 115 lbs to 180 lbs and assumed that was normal. I was swollen, short of breath, and generally unhappy. By the time the high blood pressure became a threat, it became significantly high. Because my proteins showed up during a routine visit and at about 28 weeks, I was put on bed rest, and was administered Labetalol to manage my blood pressure. After I gave birth at 35 weeks with my eldest daughter, I was told I had been preeclamptic but that it was "not a big deal." I was reassured it does not necessarily happen with every pregnancy, so I was told, for my next baby... "Let's plan to have a drama-free pregnancy."

About a month or two after the birth of my first child I saw an episode on TLC of a woman who lost her baby due to preeclampsia and I thought... "Hey, that is what I had!" I had no idea what it was and so after I watched the show, I researched the condition. The next day, I called my Ob/Gyn and I asked her "Could my baby have died from what I had? " I was concerned because she had been so relaxed about it. She briefly explained the condition to me but again stated I just "needed to relax and watch my diet and I would be fine for the next baby."

A year later, I got pregnant with my second child. At 12 weeks, I looked 28 weeks pregnant due to my size. My signs and symptoms the second time were worse and more pronounced. The doctor prescribed 1000 mgs of Labetalol and 60 mgs of Procardia with my blood pressure still lingering at 210/120. No matter what I did, I couldn't relax because I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest and I couldn't breathe. I was heavily retaining water. My nose was enlarged, my lips had swollen, my feet were swollen, I could hardly see out my eyes. I had migraines that were so severe that I couldn't even walk. I woke up every morning and wondered if I would make it to the next day. I felt completely and utterly tortured. I weighed over 185 lbs at 28 weeks pregnant with a starting weight of 120. I would call my Ob's office and cry and tell them I couldn't breathe and I felt like someone was suffocating me and they would tell me to go lay down and rest. I felt that I had no voice for my condition.

At 28 weeks I went into the hospital when my proteins were elevated and shortly thereafter gave birth to my second daughter, Sophia. I was in the hospital for a week after I gave birth and Sophia stayed in the NICU for 8 weeks, as she was born at 3 lbs, but had dropped to 2 lbs 10 oz and we couldn't keep weight on her.

I ended up leaving my gynecology practice 6 weeks postpartum after having been a patient with them since I was 18 years old. I was so upset because I felt that I had had no support during this time. At my 3-4 week post check up I told them that I was blacking out and had fainted the night before. I was certain that I had a TIA, based on the symptoms that were confirmed by several knowledgeable people in the cardiology field. I told my doctors this... And nobody did anything about it. Later, my husband told me that I should ask my Ob/Gyn about the risk of heart disease due to preeclampsia, and I was shocked that I was the one who had to address this information.

Why do you volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation? What positions have you held?

I volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation because I believe in my heart that this is a serious condition that needs to be addressed. I was shocked when I met other volunteers how many had shockingly similar stories. When I looked at the statistics, I learned over 500,000 babies and 76,000 mothers die each year worldwide. At this moment, I knew this was a non profit that I wanted to dedicate time to helping out. I am very passionate about the organization and what it represents. This past year I was the keynote speaker in Denver at the Preeclampsia Promise Walk and was honored to share my stories with other survivors in Denver. I decided to run for the title of Mrs. Colorado International after winning the state title in March of this year, to see if I could help make a difference state wide, nationally, and if I won the title of Mrs. International, I could change lives across the globe.

What are your goals and dreams for your involvement with the foundation?

My international pageant was held July 20, 2012 in Chicago and I am proud to say that although I did not win the International title, it was such an honor to make it to the Top 10. Once I made the Top 15, we were asked individually to speak to the thousands of spectators about our platform. After I spoke about preeclampsia, I was asked questions about my goals for the Preeclampsia Foundation if I won Mrs. International. I explained how I have been working on signs and symptoms awareness posters that I think would be very beneficial if these were placed in every gynecology office across the nation. That way, on every prenatal visit, when that patient is sitting in her doctor's office exam room waiting for her doctor to come in, she may read this information and know what preeclampsia is. It is my goal that we do not have to rely on the doctor to tell every patient about this disease. They can learn it for themselves and when or if those symptoms arise, they will know what to look for and speak to their physician about it. Education is key: and knowing your body. If something doesn't seem right, then it probably isn't.

What has been your most gratifying moment as a volunteer?

My most gratifying moment this year was when I made it past the Top 15 in the pageant, stood there and spoke about preeclampsia to educate thousands about the disease. You never know who in that audience I might have been affected in a way that could save a person's life. If I had not stepped outside of my comfort zone by entering the pageant circuit, I never would have had this impact. When I made it to the Top 10 after my statement, I knew I had delivered the information effectively and I cried so hard I had a hard time walking off the stage to stand in my spot in front of the crowd. Through my tears I looked over to the judges and blew them a kiss and said "Thank you." I was up there representing myself and my daughters, and I stood for the thousands of women who have lost their babies or lives from this serious illness. I am a better person for having had that opportunity.

My goals now still have not changed even though I did not take home the International crown. I am still Melissa Heideman, a survivor, and I plan to tell my story to anybody who will listen. I have a jewelry designer here in Denver who is gracious enough to have offered me a jewelry show with 100% of the proceeds to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Today I learned that a local radio station wants to do a fundraiser for the foundation and feature me on the show. I also have a local boutique who has offered me the opportunity to have a private party, invite friends, and 10% of proceeds will go to the Foundation. I plan, beauty queen or not, to help the Foundation for as long as I am living. It has been a complete privilege and honor to represent the foundation. Lastly, I plan to help the Preeclampsia Foundation organize the 3rd annual Promise Walk in Denver. Please check out my website at www.melissaheideman.com.

 

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