My experience with Preeclampsia/HELLP syndrome

Post On Friday, August 02, 2013 By Leslie

My experience with Preeclampsia/HELLP syndrome

Hello, my name is Leslie B. I along with my two boys, Brody, 5 years old and Nicholas, 3 months old, are survivors of preeclampsia/HELLP syndrome. After having this condition with two pregnancies, I have felt a strong conviction to help bring awareness to this often "silent" but very serious condition. It really hit me when I was at a playdate with my boys, and a woman there expressed that she was so miserable being pregnant that she had prayed she would get preeclampsia so she could deliver early and "get" to have a c-section so she didn't have to endure a long labor. I was stunned at the idea that someone would want to have this, but I also kind of understood because although I had not asked for and did not want to have preeclampsia, I still did not realize the seriousness of it. When I heard that comment, I knew I wanted to do something in my community to help bring awareness, but I wasn't sure what to do or how to go about it.

I began researching preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and came across this website. I considered hosting a gala, but I feel like we have so many of those here in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, I was afraid there wouldn't be a good turnout. Then I saw the information on the Promise Walk and I thought that would be perfect! Here is a history of my experience.  

Five years ago, four weeks prior to my due date with Brody, I discovered at one of my OB checkups that my blood pressure was slightly elevated. Except for significant nausea and vomiting in the first and second trimesters of my pregnancy, I had a healthy pregnancy and felt good from about 20 weeks on.  At my next appointment my BP was still elevated and they detected protein in my urine. That was a Thursday. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the doctor sent me home under strict orders of bed rest and a jug to collect my urine over the weekend. He told me to call immediately if I had headache or started feeling bad. I felt fine except for a minor headache which I did not think was significant enough to call about.  I did not really take the strict bed rest seriously as I was busy and had a lot going on and things to get done in preparation for the arrival of our first child and I really felt fine.

My BP was still slightly elevated but not extremely high.. I returned to my doctor  the following Tuesday as asked and my BP was higher and the protein in my urine had doubled.  I was told that I would need to deliver the baby that day or the next. I was really surprised because other than that little headache, which was a little more significant that day, I still felt fine. I ended up having c-section the next day, Wednesday, May 28, 2008 and had a beautiful healthy baby boy, Brody James Borengasser 6lbs 15 oz and 20 inches long. My doctor monitored me closely in the days after having Brody and when he felt I was fine, Brody and I were able to go home. I was in the hospital for 4 days. All was well and I had no problems postpartum.

Fast forward 4 1/2 years. I was pregnant with our second child, also a boy. Again I had significant nausea and was sick quite a lot. Additionally this time around I was also extremely tired and did not feel well for most of the pregnancy. I just assumed it was because I was 5 years older and a bit more overweight than I was with the first pregnancy. I was still very busy, but was so exhausted and felt so bad that I spent most afternoons laying in bed while playing with my almost 5 year old, which I later discovered that me resting in the afternoon was what probably kept my condition from getting bad sooner than it did.  Because I had preeclampsia before, my doctor monitored my blood pressure closely and encouraged me to let him know if I had any headaches or did not feel well.

At about 33 weeks on a Monday evening I did not feel right. I could not pinpoint what didn't feel right, but something wasn't right so I called the answering service and the doctor on call told me that I should go to the hospital just to be monitored for a few hours. She called the hospital to let Labor and Delivery know that she had ordered me to go. Upon my arrival the wonderful staff at Mercy got me checked in and had a room ready for me. One of the nurses called my doctor because she felt he would want to know I was there. He called my cell phone and told me I was right to call and that he had ordered some lab work to be done and for me to rest and relax and he would see me in the morning. The week that followed consisted of closely monitoring my BP, along with urine samples and blood work too monitor my liver and kidney function. I was doing fine, my BP was okay, but they were keeping an eye on my liver and kidney levels which had risen slightly. I was almost 35 weeks and Dr. Bell wanted to try to get me to 37 weeks as long as everything looked okay, but he suggested that I remain in the hospital since he didn't feel I would be able to be on strict bed rest at home and because he wanted to keep a close watch on my condition. He explained that I could be fine and feel fine one day and things could change quickly with no rhyme or reason, so reluctantly I agreed to stay in the hospital. If I had been further along I they would have just gone ahead and done the c-section, but since I was still about 6 weeks from my due date they wanted make sure the baby has time to mature enough to be born. Thursday was a great day. I felt good my levels were all normal and my BP was normal, a little low even and the continuous fetal monitor indicated that the baby was doing well and my headache was gone.  I asked if it was possible for me to go home and Dr. Bell said that he still felt I should stay until the baby was born and that as long as my levels were normal he wanted to try to get me to at least 37 weeks and possibly even 39 weeks if I continued to do so well, but he wanted me to remain in the hospital until the baby came. We knew I would be having another c-section which was scheduled for May 20th. 

It was April 25th at this point.  Thursday night I had a little pain in my upper stomach. As the night progressed it became worse. I hated to bother the nurses as I could hear a woman in labor in the next room, but the pain got so bad that I could not sleep and I could not get comfortable and I vomited a couple of times. When the nurse came in to check my vitals I told her about the pain and she immediately called my doctor and he ordered pain medication for me. My husband had recently had his gall bladder out and described the same kind of pain I was experiencing. Since my levels were all normal that day and my blood pressure was still normal I wondered if it was my gall bladder. I had heard of women having gall bladder problems during pregnancy.  So the next morning my doctor was there early and sent me down to have an ultrasound of my gallbladder as well as another round of lab work to check my liver and kidney function again. The gall bladder ultrasound indicated swelling 9 mm thick around my gall bladder.

The surgeon who was a friend of our family said he gets worried when he sees 3 mm thick, so 9 mm thick was pretty serious. The next three hours seemed like 3 minutes. After the gallbladder ultrasound, Dr. Bell, my OB came to my room and sat by my bedside. He explained to me that my condition had become more serious, my kidney and liver enzymes had risen, and there was significant protein present in my urine. Additionally my platelets which aid in blood clotting to prevent excessive bleeding or "bleeding  out", had dropped to dangerous levels. Normal is 150,00 and mine were 28,000.

Shortly after Dr. Bell came to my room the anesthesiologist came in as well. Together they explained to me that I had a condition called HELLP syndrome. They seemed calm and told me not to worry and that they were going to take good care of me and my baby. I still wasn't sure of how serious it was but as they were explaining that I was going to have to have a c-section within in the next hour and that due to the risk of bleeding out if they did a spinal, I would have to be put totally under during the c-section. a million things were going through my mind. But the one that kept coming to my mind was, "could my baby and I die?" So I just asked. Both my doctor and the anesthesiologist reassured me that they were going to do their very best to take care of me and my baby, and that the only way for this condition to be resolved was to have the baby. I was so scared, but still wasn't sure how serious it was. I called three of my best friends. Two of them were labor and delivery nurses and one was a nurse practitioner. When I explained what was going on to each of them, they all cried and began praying with me. This was when I first realized the seriousness of this condition.

I remember lying there in the OR as they were prepping me for surgery, which they had to do before sedating me so that the baby did not get too much of the anesthetic. They wanted me to be fully prepped so that they would be able to get the baby out quickly. As I lay there I began praying and thinking, is this it? Am I and my baby going to make it through this? And if my baby lives and I don't, will my husband be able to take care of the children and work and will my family be okay without me? I kept thinking I have a strong faith and I know Heaven will be wonderful and I can't wait to be face to face with God, but I am not ready to die!! And I need to know that my baby and my 5 year old son and my husband will be okay! And my son's 5th birthday party which I had planned for the first weekend in May thinking that was well ahead of the day we were scheduled to have Nicholas! Boy did that backfire! Will he get to have his party? I know it seems silly, but to be honest, it was one of the things I thought of among many others. Would my family and friends know how much I love them? Would my mom and sister and grandfather know? Would my husband know how much I love him? I closed my eyes and put my trust in my doctors and my faith in God.

Nicholas Henry Borengasser was born that Friday, April 26th. He was 4lbs 7oz and 18 inches long. When I woke up, my husband was soon at my side holding my hand. I was freezing and struggling to breathe, but all I could think about was, is Nicholas okay? My fears were calmed as Wes, my husband, told me that Nicholas was fine and healthy! He was in the NICU. He told me that Nicholas had been a little blue when he was first born, because he had gotten a little of the anesthetic, but they put him on the ventilator for a bit and he was fine, strong and healthy and was now breathing fine on his own.  He was so healthy that he was able to visit me in my room that evening. When I held him for the first time, I still felt pretty rough as I and was hooked up to an IV along with magnesium and some other things that I didn't know what they were. My arms looked like someone had beaten me from all of the blood work from the previous week and my platelets were still low but improving.

The first time I held Nicholas in my arms I looked at him and he looked at me and I was full of joy with this sweet precious little miracle. I remembered having this same feeling when Brody was born. I thanked God for taking care of us and still consider my "team" of doctors and nurses to be my personal guardian angels. They were all so wonderful throughout the whole experience. My husband took them all cupcakes one day and on nurses day we sent them a cookie cake and a card thanking them for all they did. They were all truly amazing! I had to stay in the hospital for several days after having Nicholas. My doctor would not let me go until my BP was normal and all of my levels were normal. As I researched HELLP syndrome I realized that my organs were probably on the verge of failure prior to having Nicholas. I am so thankful for my doctor for monitoring me even when it seemed I was fine and insisting that I stay in the hospital for him to monitor me.

I shudder at the thought of what could have happened if I had gone home on that Thursday that I felt so good and everything was fine. When my doctor was confident that I was okay, he sent Nicholas and I home under strict orders to rest and monitor my BP, but also scheduled me to come to his office once a week to check my BP. He told me to call if my blood pressure rose again or if I had a headache or didn't feel well. My BP did rise a bit which I felt was due to the heat and humidity. Then we had some unusually cool weather for several days and my BP went down and stayed down. To this day I think that God sent that cool weather for me so that my BP could get and stay under control. In 3 weeks after having Nicholas, I lost 25 lbs of fluid! That is how swollen I was! I committed to eating low fat low sodium foods. This experience has truly changed my life. My  son is now 3 months old and he and I are doing great!  After reading others stories and can relate to the anxiety and emotions that others have experienced due to going through their own experiences. I am heart broken for those who have lost loved ones from this condition and in pray for healing, hope and peace for everyone who has been affected. Thank you for allowing me to share my story and for sharing all of your stories with me.


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