Heart Stories – Kayla Hightower

Dangerously high blood pressure during her pregnancy led to Kayla having to give birth four weeks early. Despite her son being born healthy, her problems were far from over. Soon after his birth, Kayla had to be transferred to the ICU as her journey with peripartum cardiomyopathy began. Here is Kayla’s story.

Throughout my pregnancy, I had experienced swelling, high blood pressure, and a rapid heart rate. My doctors perceived these symptoms to be typical of preeclampsia and treated my symptoms as such. On September 1, 2017, my blood pressure rose dangerously high. It was no longer safe for me to be pregnant. My team decided to move forward with induction four weeks early.

The three-day labor was intense and while pushing I became extremely short of breath requiring supplemental oxygen. At 3:22 pm on Sunday, September 3rd, our precious little boy, Campbell, was finally born. Despite being four weeks premature, my son was perfectly healthy. Relieved, I thought we had made it through the hard part unscathed with our healthy son. This day that I had looked forward to for so many months was the best day of my life but also the start of my scariest journey.

Right after Campbell’s birth, the nurses placed him on my chest. “He’s perfect!” I exclaimed as he nestled into me. This perfect moment I had anticipated for so many months was finally here. Within moments, however, I had to hand my son over to my family and came back to the reality of my situation. My condition was deteriorating quickly and they immediately had to take me for further testing. At that moment, I had no idea what was about to happen in my life.

My family felt bewildered as I rolled out of the room for a CT scan and chest X-ray. My sweet baby was here and completely healthy. No one expected to need to worry about me. None of it made any sense.

Once back in my room, I was able to have a little more time with our baby boy but it was still far from what I imagined. Confined to my bed with an oxygen mask, the attached bag kept hitting my baby in the face. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I cried saying I couldn’t see him. This wasn’t how I had pictured the first moments with our sweet Campbell Layton, and things didn’t get any better from there.

The initial results from the CT scan and chest X-ray appeared to show that I had pneumonia. Unsatisfied with this finding, my OB called in an internal medicine doctor to read the results. Despite the tremendous amount of fluid around my lungs, the internal medicine doctor also did not think my issue was pneumonia. They decided to have me admitted to the intensive care unit for additional testing. My new baby stayed behind with my family in my delivery room as I moved from the OB floor to the ICU.

My time in the ICU is a blur. Memories of grappling with the oxygen mask and IVs winding all over my body. Barely able to move and beyond exhausted, I finally fell asleep. My peace was only momentary, however, because at 2:30 am I awoke with a start, suddenly unable to breathe properly. Terrified, I told my mom that something wasn’t right. My hospital, unable to properly care for my condition, transferred me to Greenville Memorial. Devastated, I said goodbye to my son and left to hopefully receive the care that would save my life.

When I arrived at Greenville Memorial, they placed me in the Coronary Care Unit. Once there, I had an echocardiogram which is an ultrasound of the heart. The results were shocking when we discovered that my ejection fraction (heart function) was only 14%. I was in congestive heart failure.

How is this possible? How had my pregnancy caused me to be in heart failure? I didn’t even know this could happen. I was a healthy 27-year-old with no significant medical history. We just couldn’t understand. My family and I were in complete shock.

Ultimately I was diagnosed with peripartum/postpartum cardiomyopathy which is a pregnancy-induced heart failure. Following my diagnosis, I had to stay in the cardiac unit for six days as my team worked to help my heart start working better. While there I was bedridden – no showers, no walking around, nothing.

Eventually, my son was transferred to Greenville Memorial too and was able to stay in the nursery. I was so happy that he was closer to me but I was still only able to see him a couple of times a day. At three days old he was able to be discharged from the hospital but I still needed more time to recover. It was so disappointing that my husband and I weren’t the ones to bring our son home. So many things were not turning out how we had planned. Luckily, however, I have an amazing family who was able to step up in our time of need. My mom and dad brought Campbell “home” while my husband stayed and supported me through the fight for my life.

At times it felt hopeless but the Lord helped us through.

Finally, after nine days, I was released from the hospital. I was weak, felt gross, and had a horrible migraine but I could breathe on my own, no longer hooked up to anything, and I was alive. It was an amazing feeling and, best of all, my husband and I got to bring out baby home together as a family. A truly wonderful day.

It is now three and a half years since the birth of my son. My life as a new mom did not go as expected. Much was lost in the aftermath of my peripartum cardiomyopathy diagnosis. My weakened heart leaves no possibility for future children. Life is forever altered but there is hope in this story that has brought so much pain. As of November 2017, my echocardiogram shows that my heart function has increased from 14% to 62%! This is so amazing! My heart has recovered! Praise the Lord!

Even though my story has a happy ending, so many women out there do not. Awareness is key and that’s what I want to come out of this more than anything.

My peripartum cardiomyopathy diagnosis will always have a profound impact on my life. What I went through, what my family and extended family went through, and what our precious Lord did to save my life. Our Savior is the reason I am here to raise our son and be the best mom I can possibly be. In his name I am saved and so is my once fragile heart. 

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