Shea’s unexpected discovery

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Shea is the mother of three girls aged under three. After the premature birth of her twins, Shea’s unexpected and prolonged symptoms led to a sudden trip to the Emergency Department and a very unexpected discovery.

I am 28 years old. I am a wife. I am a mother of three girls under three years, and I am conquering cardiomyopathy. This is my heart story. 

My husband and I were expecting identical twin girls and, although the news took our hearts by surprise, a twin pregnancy involved some high risks. As worrying as it was, carrying twins was life-affirming; something not everyone gets to experience.

Our girls were born prematurely on Christmas Eve, and their stay in the NICU and Special Care Nursery was thankfully short. Unlike some of the other babies around us, our girls got to go home on New Year's Eve.

Over the next six weeks, we were settling into life as a family of five. I was recovering from my C-section and starting to feel the worries of bringing my two babies safely into the world lifting, but deep down I knew something didn't feel right.

Something didn’t feel right.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had swelling, severe shortness of breath and fatigue; all of which can be normal pregnancy symptoms. But, after giving birth, the symptoms didn't go away. 

As many mothers can relate, the days are long, and the nights are longer; it was fair to say I was running on empty. 

I gradually started to feel dizzy, even when lying down, and I was getting pains in my chest but not what I typically thought would be a 'chest pain' to worry about. 

But I was confused. I was six weeks postpartum, and I still had those symptoms, still aching from surgery, and by February, it was getting harder to care for my daughters. I had three very young girls to look after, and I wasn’t feeling the way I expected to at this stage of motherhood.

I struggled in every way. So, I decided to go to my GP. My doctor sent me straight to the Emergency Department at the hospital. 

At the main Emergency Department, they discovered I had an ovarian vein thrombosis, a DVT, and my chest pains were diagnosed as heartburn. I was sure that it wasn’t heartburn, but the doctor insisted otherwise. I was sent home from the hospital that night.

A month went by, and I had an appointment with my obstetrician to investigate my DVT.

While investigating the DVT, and by a stroke of luck, I had an appointment for my first echocardiogram.

Immediately after the echo, they told me to go to the hospital within the next 24 hours; I initially thought it was the DVT. I still didn't understand the severity of my situation.

That day, 8 March, I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and told that I had heart failure and, I broke. The chest pain, the dizziness, the fatigue; all these symptoms were due to my heart. I was right; it wasn’t heartburn!

8 March was also the date I had met my husband, 10 years earlier. It was like the best of times suddenly collided with the worst of times. Like living in a parallel universe: one of being a mother and one of being in heart failure.

I was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit and under the care of a good cardiologist. It was confronting wearing a heart monitor for the first time. That first night they gave me something to help me sleep as I couldn't comprehend where I was, what was happening, or why!

I started tests and medication.

It is only when no-one can tell you if your heart will even respond to treatment that you realise just how desperate you are to not only spend your time being happy but how much we take our good health for granted.

Once home, I didn't think much about recovery, as I was sure I was still in shock.

Mostly, I remember just feeling vulnerable that my heart had failed me. 

I am thankful for my family who supported me, especially my husband. I don't think words can express my gratitude.

Though the last few months have been the hardest of my life, my ejection fraction is increasing, and I have had successes with medications for my dilated cardiomyopathy.

Slowly, but surely, my life is starting to resemble the life I imagined as the mother of three girls, and it’s less about the fears that became my reality.

Postpartum cardiomyopathy can occur anytime from six weeks to five months after giving birth. I hope my story helps raise awareness regarding maternal health, around being your own advocate and for others struggling with heart health, no matter your age.

My experience has truly shown that if you don’t feel right, if your body is continuing to throw up symptoms that don’t go away, go and get help. And, if you don’t feel that the diagnosis is right, be your own advocate and get a second opinion. Your life might depend on it.

Hear more stories of diagnosis, recovery and coming to terms with the side effects of a heart condition from young Australian men and women