Shelly Bridgewater was 25 years young when she died in 2005 from preeclampsia. Her best friend, Bree Housley, wrote a book about their unlikely friendship and the impact Shelly, "the social butterfly," had on her life. We Hope You Like this Song launches this week and is available in our Marketplace. We talked with Housley about inspiration, Karaoke, and how the Preeclampsia Foundation helped her healing.

What inspired you and your sister to embark on your yearlong tribute to Shelly and then to go on to write We Hope You Like This Song?

I was having a not-so-intellectual conversation with my friends, Ami and Kerry, at a bar shortly after New Year's Day in 2009. We were discussing the ridiculousness of New Year's resolutions and how no one ever sticks to them. This led us to talk about things we could maybe do for a week, but not a whole year. It reminded me a lot of Shelly's way of life. She would do anything on any given day. So on a whim; I decided to try it. I emailed my sister to see if she thought it was stupid...because I was pretty sure it was probably stupid. Courtnee not only liked the idea, she asked if she could join me. We decided to keep track of our "project" via a blog.

As for the book, I always knew I wanted to tell the story of my friendship with Shelly, but it was just too sad. I didn't want to write a sob story about how I lost my best friend. However, once the blog project got going, I found myself opening up about Shelly in ways I never had before. I was basically going through a happy version of therapy. The kind where you don't have to sit face-to-face and talk to a stranger who just keeps repeating "...and how does that make you feel?" The blog project gave me closure.

What experience had the most profound effect on you during your Shelly-inspired year?

Well, there were quite a few "resolutions" that taught me valuable lessons, even if I humiliated myself in the process. Karaoke is a big example of that. I was scared to death to do it, but when I found my inner Shelly and butchered an old Christmas tune in front of a bunch of strangers, it quickly became one of my favorite experiences. I learned that living life out loud (and out of tune) is more rewarding than sitting in the corner humming along. Living the life of an extrovert for a year was rather enlightening. And also terrifying.

You found many creative ways to donate to the Preeclampsia Foundation during your Shelly-inspired year. Which was your favorite and would you recommend others use it?

We made a rule that for every failed resolution, we had to donate $15 to the Preeclampsia Foundation. So even when we failed, we sorta felt like we won. It was easy to donate right from the website, preeclampsia.org. We also invented "Audience Suggestion" weeks. People could suggest a resolution for us to complete at $5 a pop and we'd pick our favorite. It was always fun to see what people wanted us to do. Not sure what we would've learned from walking around with our fly undone all day, but thanks to a suggestion, we considered it.

Now I do the Promise Walk every year in Davenport, Iowa. The walks are held throughout the country, and I definitely suggest people check out the event nearest them. It's a great way to spread awareness and have a little fun. There are also a lot of other local events like Zumba and scrapbooking. My personal favorite is the Trivia Night Shelly's family organizes every year. Mostly because it's in my hometown of Walcott and I like to eat cream-cheese-and-corned-beef-wrapped-pickles with Court, our husbands, and Shelly's sister, Kim.

What did you know about the dangers of preeclampsia prior to Shelly's diagnosis?

I had never even heard the word "preeclampsia" before Shelly told me she'd been diagnosed. It sounded scary to me right off the bat, but Shelly assured me that everything would be okay once they induced labor. Because that's what the doctors told her. When I explained Shelly's situation to my co-workers, they all had a story about preeclampsia. Everyone seemed to know someone who had experienced it, but no one could really tell me what it was. It wasn't until after Shelly's death that I did some research to learn more about the dangers of preeclampsia. This is why I feel it's important to spread awareness about the signs to look for and what we can do to help save the women and babies we love so much.

What is one thing you wish you had told Shelly?

I wish I'd given a speech at Shelly's wedding. I had it written in my head, but it never found its way out. I wanted her to know that she is responsible for making me who I am today. My family also played a crucial role, of course, but they didn't have a choice. They were stuck with me. Shelly and I led very different lives, especially after college. She married a fellow teacher, Brad, and I moved all over the place, dating all kinds of dudes. She called me a 'big city girl' and said she was proud of me during one of our last phone conversations. I believe a lot of my strength to take such risks in life came from the confidence her acceptance gave me. It's funny how much power being best friends with the popular girl in class can give you. She picked me for a reason. And even though I feel crazy insecure sometimes, I know that I possess something that made her choose me all those years ago. And that makes me feel like I can do pretty much anything.

We should all have a few more "I love you, man" conversations in our lives... even if it takes a few martinis to get there.

 

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Patient-centric care, a buzzword in healthcare reform, should be the obvious goal for any health care system. "What a concept," I utter with a hint of sarcasm. Put the patient at the center of the decisions, resources and desired outcomes?!

However, patient-centric care is also dependent on a related concept: the "empowered patient," a subject CNN medical correspondent and fellow preeclampsia survivor Elizabeth Cohen writes about in her column and book, The Empowered Patient, available in our Marketplace.

An empowered patient is one who has the information she needs to act proactively upon her preeclampsia symptoms. She also has an effective relationship with her care provider(s) so she can communicate her concerns, ask questions, comply knowingly with agreed upon treatments, and make educated decisions. And if she doesn't have the appropriate relationship with her providers, she is confident about asking for what she needs or seeking help elsewhere.

Sometimes it takes a third party to help her get what she needs. A trusted partner, family member or friend sometimes fills that void. Often, our Community Forum becomes that life-saving voice that pushes her to seek immediate medical attention and acknowledge that inner voice that says something just isn't right.

A great example is this case, when Jonathan Barker became a worried husband, got involved in his wife's care and later said, "One piece of advice that the moderators on the Foundation's Forum always shared is that preeclampsia can strike at any time and can get very ugly, very quickly. It is a piece of advice that made the difference." And if you want a laugh about this empowered dad stepping in, read about his experience shopping for nursing bras. That's one lucky wife!

A recent mom had extreme birth anxiety, which is not uncommon for preeclampsia survivors. She advocated for herself and was able to get a sedative during delivery, improving her birth experience considerably.

A mom who had lupus, putting her at much higher risk for preeclampsia, wasn't receiving the kind of care or information she should have. She changed providers thanks to the encouragement of her online support system. Later, despite having preeclampsia, she wrote, "Thank you guys so much! I couldn't have gotten to this finish line without you! I was so knowledgeable and cautious. Got that from this website!"

These stories and many more confirm the importance of sound information and strong support guiding your role as an empowered patient, one of the hallmarks of patient-centric care.

I want to thank Heather Curtis and all our Forum moderators for the smart and empathetic support they provide every day. It's not an understatement when we say they have literally saved lives!

 

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Professors Chris Redman and Isabel Walker, co-authors of Pre-eclampsia: The Facts (Oxford University Press 1992) and co-founders of Action on Pre-eclampsia (APEC) in the UK, are seeking input from members of the Preeclampsia Foundation for their latest book, The Pre-eclampsia Survival Guide.

The new book, also co-authored by Joyce Cowan, a midwife who is Director of New Zealand APEC (NZAPEC), will be a comprehensive guide to pre-eclampsia for women and midwives. It will cover everything from historical theories to current treatments; from causation to detection; from prevention to management. It will be rooted very firmly in the real experiences of women who have suffered pre-eclampsia - and that's where you come in.

The authors are keen to illustrate their key points with real life case histories gathered from several different parts of the world. You could be part of this process by contributing to an online survey. Your input will only be used for the book, not any other research studies.

The Pre-eclampsia Survival Guide is expected to be published in the spring/summer of 2013. We will be reviewing the book in draft form to ensure that North American management practices are represented, since the intended audience includes all English speakers worldwide and, of course, we will have the finished product available in our Marketplace.

Despite conflicts over the hyphen in "pre-eclampsia", our universal understanding and management of the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy is mostly aligned in high resource countries. As with most medical issues, there will always be a variety of opinions, especially in a disorder with the moniker "the disease of theories", but we expect this will be a very sought after and trusted reference book for patients and providers alike.

 

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The Preeclampsia Registry

    The Preeclampsia Registry is a "Living Database" bringing together those affected, their family members, and researchers to advance knowledge and discover preventions and treatments for preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

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