Hope for a Mother's Heart


My Details

Noelle Priolo;

Date Diagnosed :8/6/2010

Inital EF :35

Current EF :70

Pregnacy Number :1

My story starts four months into my pregnancy when I made the first of three emergency trips to the hospital. All of our trips began with what appeared to be benign symptoms: a nosebleed that wouldn’t clot, a cough thought to be pneumonia, and severe headaches. But at each trip, the physicians were more concerned with my blood pressure. Unfortunately, each physician I dealt with only tested me for pre-eclampsia. Given my age, 28, and no history of a heart condition, none of the healthcare professionals even considered heart disease. I complained of shortness of breath, significant fatigue, headaches, body swelling, erratic weight gain (for example, in one week I gained five pounds). All of these symptoms were casually chalked up to be normal pregnancy symptoms by my OB.

My first week home was anything but typical. I was still extremely bloated, having a hard time breathing and just couldn’t walk more than 50 feet without feeling exhausted. Just one week after being discharged from delivery, I was back in the ER. But this time a cardiologist immediately made the diagnosis: Peripartum Cardiomyopathy – a rare pregnancy-induced congestive heart failure that affects approximately 1 in 4,000 pregnancies. An ultrasound of my heart would show my ejection fraction (EF), a measure of how healthy the heart is pumping blood, was at 35-40. A healthy heart would have an EF of 60-70. Finally, all of the symptoms began to make sense to me. It was heartbreaking to not be able to enjoy my little peanut, but mending my heart, so that one day I could be there for her, was my top priority. I was put on a regimen of heart meds and an altered diet to begin strengthening my heart.

A few days later, I was joyfully reunited at home with Gianna and my husband. Unfortunately, I was still feeling ill and my symptoms hadn’t improved. My husband felt something wasn’t quite right, so he made a call to my cardiologist. Luckily, we had a nurse practitioner that listened to us and got us a same-day CT scan. A few short hours later, I ended up back in the ER, this time with a blood clot in my lungs. I spent another heartbreaking week in the hospital.

I was discharged and was on the road to recovery. Every week I strengthened. My heart meds and healthier, salt-free eating habits gradually improved my heart function. Slowly I began to walk – first measuring distance in feet, then by city blocks, and eventually walking up to 2 miles a day. By six months my heart’s EF was back into the 60s, and within 18 months I was completely off my meds – I was fully recovered!

Out of tragedy comes my desire to share my story – to help others understand that they should always listen to their bodies, challenge your doctors, and be an advocate for one’s own healthcare. In 2011 I became focused on participating in the AHA Heart Walk. I wanted to turn a negative into a positive, and what better way of showing my turnaround than being able to walk a 5K when a year ago I couldn’t walk five feet. We raised over $3,000 and I was honored as an AHA Top Walker.

Today, I still carry forward many of those habits that led to my recovery – including giving my husband the stink-eye if he even dares salt his food. I was blessed with a supportive family, but most of all, a cardiologist and nurse practitioner who listened to me and saved my life. 

By Date Added: 2/10/2013 Date Last Updated: 2/10/2013

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Myheartsisters.com has been developed to raise awareness about heart failure in pregnancy (PPCM) and provide support for heart sisters through storytelling and friendship.

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Myheartsisters.com has been developed to raise awareness about Peri and Post Partum Cardiomyopathy and is used for educational purposes only. We encourage you to consult with health care professionals to obtain medical advice. This site contains personal accounts of heart failure in pregnancy. Information should not be used as an alternative to seeking professional medical help, where a proper evaluation or diagnosis can be made in person through a face to face consultation and medical tests.

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