How often have you heard a mum going through a heart transplant 11 weeks after giving birth?
I really can’t believe I am sitting here writing out what has become my own birth and postpartum journey. How often have you heard a mum going through a heart transplant 11 weeks after giving birth?
I had never even thought about the potential of going into heart failure due to pregnancy/birth. It’s not talked about. It’s not in a pamphlet you pick up in the waiting room at your obstetricians. It’s not mentioned in antenatal classes. It’s not mentioned when you are leaving the hospital for the first time with your newborn baby.
I have always dreamed of being a mum. There was nothing I wanted more, but I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was a teen and thought it would be a struggle to fall pregnant. When I saw a positive pregnancy test, the emotion I felt was indescribable – my pregnancy was pretty textbook up until the last week. We found out the baby measured six weeks smaller than what bub should have been, so we were rushed for an emergency ultrasound, and from there, we were sent straight to the hospital to be induced. I was devastated as I was going to miss out on a naturally induced labour, and I really did not want to have any intervention, but I needed to do what was best for my baby. Hudson was born the next day at a small 2.9kg and 49cm long.
This is when things start to take a turn, but at the time, we had no idea how bad it would end up.
I was told I was suffering a 1.7L postpartum haemorrhage and needed to be taken up to surgery to stop this ASAP. I had only had 20 minutes with Hudson, and he was already being taken away from me. By the time I got up to the operating room, my bleeding had stopped, and they told me they wanted to monitor me for 30 mins and I would be back with Dylan (partner) and Hudson ASAP. Again, things went wrong! I was in recovery for 4 hours because my heart was beating too fast… this is where I should have pushed harder for tests right then and there, but hindsight is a fantastic thing, right! It was put down as just post-birth stress, and my heart would return to a normal heart rate once I was back with my family.
Six weeks later, I woke up with what I thought was a really bad chest infection. Everyone else in my household was fit and healthy, so I wasn’t worried about it being COVID because I also had not been anywhere due to being in lockdown. I was vomiting up clear fluid. I was constantly tired. I had no appetite and extreme shortness of breath. I had a telehealth appointment three days later, and the doctor told me I should go and get a chest x-ray to rule out a clot in the lung, so off I went (spoiler alert I didn’t get home till November and this happened in August).
I went through 3 local hospitals before I was transferred to a specialist hospital where they deal with cardiac problems every single day. It was here I was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy. This is essentially the weakness of the heart muscle and can start within the last month of pregnancy to five months postpartum. Generally, it is reversible and is medically managed till the doctors give the all-clear the heart is back to normal; unfortunately, this wasn’t my case.
If going through this wasn’t already tough, it was even more challenging because I couldn’t see Hudson, who at this stage was two months old – the hospital had a no visitor policy due to being in the middle of COVID lockdown. The day we should have been celebrating him being two months old, I was listed on the transplant list for a heart, and to make matters worse, I was so sick that I couldn’t leave the hospital to go home and wait for ‘the call’. My team kept telling me my whole 7-week hospital stay from beginning to end that they could not believe I made it through pregnancy and birth alive – the words “you should’ve died” was thrown around a few times.
This is where the story gets unbelievable. Due to not knowing how long I was going to wait in the hospital, we were granted exemptions for Dylan and Hudson to come in for 2 hours every other day. That happened three times… one week, and one day later, since being listed, I got the call – they had a heart. The following day Hudson, Dylan and my mum came in to see me off to surgery. A 25-year-old brand new mum was about to undergo a heart transplant. This was the hardest goodbye I had ever had and will ever have, I knew I would wake up, but I could not help all those thoughts roll through my head. The last thought I had before I fell asleep was, “See you on the other side, my boys.” My transplant took 4.5 hours, and then I was wheeled off to ICU, we were told I would probably be in ICU for a week, but I shocked them yet again and only stayed in ICU for two days before going up to the ward.
It took 16 days from surgery till my discharge day. I wasn’t letting anything get in my way of getting home to Dylan and Hudson. Every little bump in the road I made sure to push through to keep my recovery going – I was all about breaking records!
I’ve been out of hospital for nearly two months, and we got the all-clear to move home in mid-November (the hospital is located 3 hours away from our town). Since then, I have settled back into motherhood and enjoyed every single second of it. At the time, my hospital stay was longer than the time I had spent with Hudson, so finding out how to interact with him was a little difficult especially considering I couldn’t pick him up due to my sternotomy, but now there is no doubt I can read him like a book.
If you asked me when I was pre heart transplant what my biggest fear would be, my answer would’ve been Hudson not recognising me due to not having my native heart anymore. In many books, online classes and podcasts I had listened to during my pregnancy, they say one way a baby recognises their mums is through their heartbeat, and I didn’t have that same heartbeat anymore.
Do I have that fear now – absolutely not! Hudson and I have an even more special bond. He literally saved my life. Although I was diagnosed with heart failure due to pregnancy, the doctors believed it had been around for a long time, but being pregnant just pushed my body into overdrive.
I am thankful every day that I get a second chance in life to watch Hudson grow. I get to marry Dylan in April next year, and this is all because of my selfless donor family – if it weren’t for them, I would not have made it a year. I have been an organ donor myself for a few years, and now after knowing the importance of needing an organ, I have tried to get my story out there to promote organ donation. You can sign up on the Medicare app, and it takes 2 seconds.
Mumma’s if you feel like something is wrong, please don’t ignore it, see your doctor and don’t give up until you feel right. It was a very rare case; as mentioned above, PPCM is mostly always reversible, with the heart going back to normal.