Heart Stories – Bridgette McElwee

Bridgette McElwee had trouble breathing throughout her pregnancy. When she asked her doctor about it, she was diagnosed with sinus infections. Unfortunately, Bridgette was actually in heart failure due to peripartum cardiomyopathy. Here is her story.

Throughout my pregnancy, I experienced shortness of breath but I never expected there could be an issue with my heart. Since I had a history of sinus infections, my doctor assured me that this was likely why I was having trouble breathing. Since everything else was progressing smoothly with my pregnancy besides that, I wasn’t too concerned. I focused on looking forward to the arrival of my new baby.

Near the end of my pregnancy, my condition worsened significantly. I was constantly out of breath and retaining fluid. It was uncomfortable to walk with my swollen feet and ankles. My blood pressure was extremely high and at a dangerous level for my pregnancy. I also had the issue of my daughter facing the wrong way inside of me. Although it was a month before my due date, the team decided that an emergency C-section was the best option and I was rushed to the OR. My daughter was born healthy a 4lbs 5oz and I hoped that the worse of my condition had passed. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Heart Stories - Bridgette McElwee - Bridgette with her daughter

The day after my daughter’s birth, my blood pressure suddenly dropped when I got out of bed. I almost passed out. A chest X-ray found a large amount of fluid around my lungs. This led my team to believe I had pneumonia. I transferred to the ICU and got two units of blood due to losing too much blood during the C-section.

While in the ICU, they ran many more tests including an echocardiogram. Ultimately I was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy. My heart was functioning between 25 and 35%. Hearing this diagnosis was one of the most terrifying moments in my life.

My husband was distraught by the news. This is not what we had expected with new parenthood. He was afraid of losing me and did everything in his power to support me during my recovery. While I focused on my health he was the one to get up with our daughter at night, feed her, change her, he did it all. The future seemed so uncertain. Would I be here to raise my child? I knew I had to stay strong, however, and that I would fight this and I knew I had my husband by my side to support me through it all.

Using medication, including Carvedilol , Lisinopril, and Spironolactone, and a low sodium diet I was able to get my heart function back up to 40%. I’ve also increased my activity by making sure to take regular walks.

PPCM is a very serious condition and I hope that by sharing my story, there will be more awareness. Women have to learn to be their own advocates for their health. If you feel something is not right with your body and your doctor isn’t listening to you, get a second opinion. It could save your life.

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