A survivor's story
fter the birth of my first child, a girl, in 2004 I was quite ill. The labour was difficult and I lost a lot of blood due to hemorrhaging. About a week after my daughter was born I began to have difficulty breathing, particularly when lying down. I had extreme swelling of my legs from the knees down. I was extremely weak and fatigued. I saw a doctor about a month post-partum, who attributed my problems to the difficult birth, my anemia from the blood loss, etc. I eventually recovered, but I suffered for weeks with the symptoms of PPCM - but didn't know it at the time.
In 2006 I had a miscarriage at 16 weeks pregnant. I again suffered the same symptoms (but not as serious) as after the birth of my daugther. My obstetrician was concerned when I was still ill six weeks after the miscarriage and I was referred to a cardiologist. By the time I saw him my symptoms had resolved. Based on what I told him I was disagnosed with PPCM. He advised me not to have another child.
I got a second opinion from a doctor who thought it was unlikely that I had PPCM, given that I recovered without medical intervention, and he felt that with appropriate care and follow up I could have another child.
In 2007 I gave birth to my son. I was 38 years old. I was carefully monitored during delivery and the medical team ensured that the delivery was relatively "easy" for me. I was not given the fluids one normally would recieve during labour and delivery. My son's birth was not nearly as traumatic as the birth of my daughter. However, about a week post partum I began to develop serious PPCM symptoms again. I went to emergency once but was sent home as tests were normal. About three weeks post partum the shortness of breath had worsened, I developed a serious migraine with aura - my eyesight was affected and my vision was filled with black and white geometric shapes. I was taken to hospital again, my blood pressure (that was always perfect throughout the pregnancy) was sky high - about 225/180 I think. Doctors feared I had had a stroke. Blood tests showed abnorml readings for just about all my organs - kidney, liver, heart obviously. Fortunately I had not had a stroke. I was kept in an emergency critical care unit with my three week old son and I immediately started taking diuretics. Witin 48 hous my blood pressure stabilized and the weight off my chest and the sob lifted. I went home, taking my weight daily and contining on the diuretics. Three months post-partum I stopped taking the medication and went through a large number of cardiac tests. My heart had recovered, again. I was told that I certainly had PPCM and that I should not have further pregnancies.
Five years after the birth of my son I went through extensive cardiac testing again. Everything was still normal.I am one of the lucky ones, I realise that. My PPCM was relatively mild. I recovered quickly, with no permanent damage to my heart.
I just learned that a 35 year old mother of three in my city died of PPCM in March. I can't help but wonder if she could have survived had she know of the conditions, and the symptoms. I am committed to sharing my story now and trying to educate others on this rare condition.