Highlighting our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own
perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us
yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.
You’re Too Young to
Have Heart Disease
By Stacy Walker, Heart Valve Disease Survivor | Hartford, Connecticut
y heart story is similar to a lot of women
who find out they have cardiovascular
issues while pregnant. Luckily for me, I
found out before it was too late.
I was unaware I had rheumatic heart
disease until I was 29 years old, pregnant and experiencing
heart failure (HF). The unfortunate thing is that neither I nor
my APRN midwife knew I was in heart failure at the time
because the warning signs of HF closely resemble pregnancy
symptoms. My symptoms included shortness of breath; rapid
weight gain; swollen, fluid-filled feet; higher than usual blood
pressure; fatigue; and trouble sleeping. All were dismissed as
expected pregnancy symptoms.
Unfortunately, that was not the case, and on March 22,
2011, what was supposed to be a routine 35-week prenatal
office visit turned into a day filled with tests, screenings,
lots of worrying, tears and unanswered questions. The
ultrasounds and stress tests revealed that my baby had
stopped growing at 30 weeks, her heart rate was very weak
and that an emergency C-section was needed to save her
life. Still no one knew I was in heart failure.
The C-section was successful. My daughter, who was
severely underdeveloped because of intrauterine growth
restriction, was born weighing 2 pounds, 12 ounces. In the
NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), all the focus was on her
health and survival.
The night after my C-section, I had trouble sleeping and
breathing became difficult. I reported it to the hospital staff,
and they brought in a respiratory team to give me a nebulizer
treatment. Still no one was aware I was in heart failure.
The following morning they sent me to do an
echocardiogram and that was when it was discovered that
I had fluid buildup in my lungs and scarring on my valves,
which indicated rheumatic heart disease. They downplayed
the seriousness of my condition and gave me some Lasix
to help relieve my fluid retention. That night I realized how
serious my situation was when I went into respiratory
distress, which required emergency lifesaving intervention,
including a large dose of Lasix® via IV drip. I was transferred
from the maternity unit to the cardiac step-down unit and
officially became a cardiac patient.
This was a devastating time for my family: Our 2-day-old
premature baby was in the NICU and I was in the cardiac unit
with heart failure. I was so scared, I didn’t fully understand
Survivor and mother, Stacey Walker