Pregnancy Hurt Her Heart: Danielle’s Story

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Danielle White was in her late twenties and in her third trimester of pregnancy when she started having high blood pressure, a high heart rate, and chest pains. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a dangerous condition during pregnancy that can lead to seizures, strokes, or other major medical complications if untreated. Due to the danger that preeclampsia posed for her and her daughter, Danielle delivered a few weeks early. She thought she would start feeling better once she had had her baby, like most patients with preeclampsia, but the symptoms continued: shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, a high heart rate and blood pressure. When her baby was 3 weeks old Danielle went to the emergency department and described her symptoms, and when they couldn’t get her heart rate to go down they admitted her.

The team at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital did an echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart, to see the ejection fraction of Danielle’s heart, or the amount of blood the left ventricle of the heart is pumping out around your body. Her ejection fraction was only 5-10%, when a normal ejection fraction is over 50%. Her heart was not pumping. Danielle was placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) while her heart team worked to figure out medications to help her heart.

After Danielle was released from the hospital on heart medication she started seeing Dr. Roberta Bogaev, Chief of Cardiology, Bon Secours Virginia and Medical Director, Advanced Heart Failure Center, regularly for “intense care”. Danielle had a very severe case of peripartum cardiomyopathy, or a type of congestive heart failure that begins in pregnancy. She was on multiple medications, and saw Dr. Bogaev every week for the first few months and they adjusted the doses of the medications to find what worked best for her heart. They were also checking her heart function every three months.

After a couple of months of treatment, Danielle’s heart function started to increase, from the 5-10% it was at diagnosis. A year later it was about 35%, then six months after that it was at 47%. Danielle’s heart is well on its way to recovering.

At the beginning of the recovery process, Danielle went to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, where she did a cardiovascular workout under supervision of a nurse. Staying active and following a heart-healthy diet helped her to get better.

Dr. Bogaev did genetic testing and heart issues are in Danielle’s family, so the stress of pregnancy on her body may have just been too much for her heart to deal with.
Danielle credits Dr. Bogaev for saving her life, which she now gets to enjoy with her children and her family.