A Brother's Legacy

Post On Tuesday, April 29, 2014 By Katriina Hopper

A Brother's Legacy

My preeclampsia story begins with my mother.

I was nine years old when she was pregnant with my brother, Zachary.  I remember sitting next to her on the sofa, her legs up on the coffee table,  "Watch what happens when I press my thumb into my skin," she said, and I watched the indentation stay.  And I pressed my thumb in, creating a shallow pit on her leg, as she closed her eyes and napped in third trimester exhaustion.

23 years later, I sat in my own living room, feet propped up on the coffee table, 31 weeks pregnant, and pressed my thumb into my shin.  And felt nearly sick to my stomach when the indentation stayed.  Something was wrong.  Instinctively I knew.  I had frequent Braxton Hicks. I had terrible heartburn and nausea.  But my blood pressure was 120/80 and baby looked great on ultrasound.  But I couldn't sleep.  And my temporary "pregnancy" larger-sized wedding band wouldn't even fit anymore.

At 38+5 weeks, my in-laws visited and I saw spots.  They were subtle, just a few that quickly moved across my right eye, then a dull headache.  Very mild.  That night I checked my blood pressure at home.  142/90.  My blood pressure came down in L&D, but I was sent home with a 24-hr urine container that was positive for protein.  Just above the cut off for preeclampsia.

So I was induced at 39+1.  My OB's partner told me that he wasn't going to put me on magnesium.   He wasn't convinced it was preeclampsia -- just pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.  I labored for 24 hours and my cervix wouldn't budge beyond 4cm, baby was 'sunny-side' up, and my blood pressure and temperature were rising.  Ellie was born via c-section, a healthy 8lb 12oz girl.  

I lost a lot of blood during the surgery and felt 'out of it' after Ellie was born.  I had a severe headache that worsened when I stood up.  I was told it was a spinal headache and that it would go away after a few days.  On the day of discharge from the hospital, it took all my strength to shower and change my clothing.  My head was pounding.  

I was in the ER the following day, with a splitting headache, seeing flashes of light march across my visual field.  My blood pressure was elevated.  I was initially sent home with a migraine and told to avoid narcotics!  But when my home blood pressure rose to 190/100, I returned to the ER that night and was admitted for severe post-partum preeclampsia.  I was hospitalized for another five days, initially on a magnesium drip, trying to find the right combination of medications that would keep my blood pressure down.  I was never so afraid of dying...I had never felt that death was so close.  

It took weeks before my blood pressure stabilized. It took 6 months to come off of blood pressure medications.  I took months for anxiety symptoms to resolve.  But, I am well, and Ellie is well.  Thank God, Ellie is well.

My brother Zachary was not.  My mom's pitting edema was also from preeclampsia.  She had developed HELLP syndrome.  And Zachary lived only 13-hours, due to complications of preeclampsia.

Zachary's death has always seemed so senseless.  But, if I hadn't seen pitting edema...  If I hadn't seen my mother's symptoms of preeclampsia, I often wonder if I would have recognized my own.  ...and if I hadn't, I wonder if Ellie (or I) could have been another victim of this terrible disease.

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