Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Slowly and steadily the Bradley household is returning to a normal it never really knew before. Sarah Bradley contracted Peripartum Cardiomyopathy during her second pregnancy, and unlike in many instances of this disease, things didn’t return to normal afterward. After a heart transplant that might have been avoided, Bradley is on a crusade to educate women.
“I’ve been trying to speak out about women’s heart health,” Sarah said. “We don’t have very many OBs here. The OBs here are good, but they are so overwhelmed with patients that they don’t have the time to address some concerns. I think a lot of things were missed during my appointments. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that Postpartum Cardiomyopathy or Peripartum Cardiomyopathy existed. So when things started happening, I just chalked it up to pregnancy. A lot of the symptoms mimic pregnancy.”
The symptoms themselves are nothing new to pregnant women, she said, and that made it even harder to detect.
“When you’re pregnant, a lot of things mimic symptoms from pregnancy,” Sarah said. “Swelling in your hands, feet, ankles and legs. I ended up swelling everywhere. I looked like a different person toward the end. Another symptom was not being able to sleep flat or on your side. I had to sleep propped up, pretty much sitting up. I had four or five pillows propping me up.”
Sarah’s husband, Chris said that became a family affair.
“Her last trimester we were on the couch every night sleeping,” Chris said. “We were on the couch together, even Caleb was out there with us.”
The symptoms kept piling up.
“I had a constant cough from my second trimester until I had my son,” Sarah said. “I chalked it up to asthma because when I was pregnant with Caleb I had the issue of coughing too. They prescribed inhalers, nothing helped, I just kept coughing, which is a symptom of heart failure.”
Along with nausea and vomiting, Sarah also suffered shortness of breath. She wasn’t able to do much without having to sit down and take a break.
Chris said the big thing he remembers from one pregnancy to the next is how the symptoms showed up.
“It’s hard to tell the difference between the symptoms and regular pregnancy,” Chris said. “I guess it’s the severity more than anything. Also the symptoms come as a package deal with myopathy.”
One of the scarier symptoms came and went.
“I noticed arrhythmia early on in my pregnancy with my second son,” Sarah said. “They went away, and then they started up again toward the end. It feels like your heart is going to beat out of your chest.”
Before the LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) was put in her body, Sarah’s resting pulse was over 150 beats per minute. A normal resting pulse on an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
“Now my resting heart rate is in the 80s to the 90s,” Sarah said. “My pulse did not exist with the LVAD because it was constantly pushing blood it didn’t beat.”
Sarah said that if they had caught the disease earlier, her heart might have been saved. According to the American Heart Association, about 1,000 to 1,300 women develop the condition in the U.S. each year. Sarah said the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix suspected this wasn’t her first time dealing with it.
“Mayo chose to believe that my heart might have been slightly damaged during my first pregnancy, and I never knew, but my heart recovered,” Sarah said. “Coming into my second pregnancy not knowing, that could have been one of the reasons my heart didn’t recover. We were home for a week or two before I went into full heart failure.
“I remember the night like it was yesterday,” Sarah said, “that I couldn’t catch my breath. Literally it felt like drowning.”
Sarah said it’s important for women to know what to look for, so that they can inform their doctors. Otherwise the doctor could miss important signs.
“When I was first diagnosed, and I first had my LVAD,” Sarah said. “I became a member of a lot of Facebook pages for Peripartum Cardiomyopathy and for the LVAD. I’m seeing that since this first started with me, it’s happening to more and more women. I have noticed that women are learning the signs and doctors are starting to catch it sooner.”
Although doctors have told Sarah that she will be back to a normal life in 6 to 12 months after surgery, there are some changes that are permanent.
“I have to watch what I eat now,” Sarah said. “It’s not just a sodium thing. I can’t eat eggs unless they’re cooked all the way through or pasteurized. I can’t have grapefruits, or pomegranates because they’ll interact with my medications. All meats have to be cooked well, and I like a medium steak. I have to wash vegetables and fruits really well, even if it says they’ve been washed. I can’t garden or have cats due to kitty litter.”
Meanwhile, she has her good days and her not-so-good days.
“I have my days,” Sarah said. “They’re still altering my medication here and there, so sometimes my levels have to be altered. I’m still a little tired and sometimes I experience headaches and nausea. But other than that, my heart’s still doing good. I’m still here.”
Sarah and Chris are profoundly grateful for all the prayers, assistance, donations and love they’ve received since this happened.
“The one thing that will never get old about being in a smaller town,” Sarah said, “is you have the community pitch in and help more than you would in a bigger town where you’re just another person. We want to thank the entire community for everything they’ve done.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.