A Rough Pregnancy

In March 2013, my husband Patrick and I married, a year to the day of him asking me out. A week later we found out I was pregnant. I was extremely sick from the start, and my feet started swelling to massive proportions in July. By August, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. As a result I had bi-weekly tests to check the baby. At 35 weeks, I started feeling sicker even though I was on bed rest. I couldn’t lie flat to sleep, started coughing while lying down and had to use the bathroom every 45 minutes to an hour.

Survivor Rebecca Stewart with husband Patrick and daughter Victoria.

By November, I had only gained 6 pounds. I kept coughing and couldn’t breathe well. Thinking it was bronchitis, the doctor prescribed an antibiotic. She decided to get a second opinion, and that doctor felt there was something off and sent me for an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram and chest x-ray. I was told I had peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) but the doctor said I should recover after delivery. In PPCM the heart muscle does not pump enough blood for the vital organs; it is heart failure due to pregnancy.

My doctor decided to induce labor around 10:00 pm on November 7th. Victoria Rayne was born at 6:40 pm the next day. She weighed 5 pounds 8 ounces. Because of PPCM, I was moved to the cardiac floor for observation and monitoring.

The next morning, I called my nurses into the room and told them something was wrong. That’s the last thing I remember. They couldn’t get a blood pressure or pulse. I was in cardiac shock, kidney failure and the beginning of liver failure. Patrick had to make the choice to let me pass away or have the doctors try to save my life.

I remember very little over the next few days. I was in and out of consciousness. I wondered why my family was there with such sad faces. Little did I know they had been told to say their good-byes.

I was transferred to Wake Forest Medical Center, and after many procedures, it was decided that I needed a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). We were told the LVAD would give my heart a chance to rest and recover. The doctors said it was my only choice if I wanted to leave the hospital. On November 19, I had my first open-heart surgery to place the device.

Over the next months, I had many complications before I was able to go home and be a mom: two collapsed lungs, a clot in my LVAD that required it to be replaced in January (another open-heart surgery) and a torn neck artery that required a stent. They even discovered a cancerous Hurthle cell thyroid tumor, which required surgery to remove.

By April, my heart had improved. Plans were made to remove the device. July 5, 2014, the LVAD was removed.

Victoria and I just had our birthdays and I am doing well now and am LVAD free. Today I am a survivor of PPCM!

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