Heart Stories – Kristy Miller

When Kristy Miller had dreamed about bringing her newborn son home from the hospital, she hadn’t expected them both to be wearing heart monitors. After her peripartum cardiomyopathy diagnosis and a lengthy hospital stay that included her being placed in a medically induced coma, this is where Kristy found herself. Here is Kristy’s story.

In October 2011, I found out I was pregnant.  It was a surprise, but also a blessing.  I had always wanted to be a mom.  Except for a little high blood pressure in January, my pregnancy was progressing smoothly.  Once we had our first warm day in April, I began to experience swelling in my feet, legs, and hands.  My doctor assured me this was all common in pregnancy.

By the time May rolled around, I was still swollen, my blood pressure was up, I was extremely tired and I had developed a bad cold.  My doctor finally seemed concerned with my symptoms and scheduled an extra appointment a few days later.  As soon as they took my blood pressure at the next appointment, I was told to immediately go to the hospital.  My blood pressure was at dangerous levels.

At the hospital, they started me on magnesium to help lower my blood pressure.  It looked like my baby would be coming sooner than expected. Since I was only 33.5 weeks, I received a steroid injection to help the baby’s lungs develop.  The doctor decided that I was stable and, since the baby was breech, they scheduled a C-section for a few days later.   

Everything changed a few hours later.  All of a sudden it became hard to catch my breath.  I called for the nurse and things went downhill fast.  Shortly after the nurse arrived I stopped breathing. They quickly intubated me and rushed off to the OR for an emergency C-section.

I woke up alone in the ICU, not knowing what had happened. I didn’t have my glasses, so I could barely see. My hands were restrained with something that looked like boxing gloves to keep me from pulling out the breathing tube. I was in the process of trying to figure out if I was still pregnant or not when my family came into my room. They were able to tell me that my tiny 4 lbs. 6 oz baby boy had arrived and was doing well.

I honestly don’t think I questioned why I stopped breathing the night before. My mind was focused on my baby.  My vitals were stable so they were able to remove the breathing tube.  They asked if I was up for a trip to the NICU to see my son.  I probably wasn’t, but nothing was going to keep me from seeing my baby.  While I wasn’t able to hold him, seeing my tiny blessing was the best ten minutes of my life.

Heart Stories - Kristy Miller - Kristy's son

Not long after that, I returned to the labor and delivery floor and settled into my new room.  I was on cloud nine! I had a beautiful baby boy who I would soon hold in my arms.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

That night I started having trouble breathing again.  I wasn’t sure if I was being paranoid or if I really could not breathe.  At first, the nurse assured me that my oxygen levels were fine but they soon dropped and I stopped breathing again.

This time they placed me in a medically induced coma to keep my vitals stabilized.  The doctors performed many tests to figure out why I kept going into respiratory failure.  Once they did an echocardiogram they discovered I was in heart failure, specifically peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) – pregnancy-induced heart failure.  My heart function was at 30% (normal is considered anything over 55%).

Thankfully, my family was there when I woke up the second time.  I had a hard time believing what they were telling me.  I was in the hospital to have a baby and now I’m in heart failure? It just didn’t make sense.  Who knew pregnancy could cause heart failure?  To make matters worse, a flu diagnosis kept me from visiting my son in the NICU.  

After a few days on antibiotics and all my new heart medications, I had the chance to finally see my baby again.  There are no words to describe the feeling of holding your child for the first time.  I was finally able to give him a name – Christian.  He was the greatest blessing I could have asked for.

Heart Stories - Kristy Miller - Kristy with her baby son

While in the hospital I experienced a few instances of arrhythmias. With my heart function decreased and the arrhythmias, the doctors decided I needed a LifeVest. A LifeVest is a wearable personal defibrillator that monitors the heart and delivers a shock if needed to restore a normal rhythm. Finally, after 10 days I was able to leave the hospital. It was a great feeling to head home, but Christian had to stay in the NICU due to not eating enough and episodes of bradycardia and apnea. 

Every day I made the journey back to the hospital to spend a few hours with Christian.  I treasured my time with him but kept wondering if I would live to see him grow up.  After 21 days, Christian was finally able to come home.  He was still having a few issues, so he came home with a heart and lung monitor.  It was an adjustment with both of us on monitors, but there is no place like home.

Four months later, I had another echo done of my heart. Luckily, my heart function increased to normal levels at 55%. At these levels, I was considered recovered from PPCM!  It has been nearly 9 years since I gave birth and my heart is still going strong. 

Heart Stories - Kristy Miller - Kristy with her son

I remain hopeful that greater awareness and education about PPCM will lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment before it becomes life threatening.

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