function independently. Though Mathews hated the sessions, “if she hadn’t pushed me, I would have stayed in a place of neglect,” she says.
Slowly, Mathews regained her independence, and along with it, her mental health. She even found ways to camouflage the LVAD equipment, tucking it into fanny packs and working the ensemble into her outfits.
“It helped my confidence,” she notes. “I wanted to look a certain way.”
Most of all, Mathews wanted to be there for her children. And now, with the LVAD keeping her heart pumping, she can be.
They go on cruises. They go to Disneyland. And, she gets together with her girlfriends. “I still go out and dance and go to parties. I still live,” she adds.
Mathews has expanded her social circle to include fellow LVAD patients.
She started with chatting up folks at the hospital where she had her procedure done. Now, the hospital calls her in to help give a patient’s perspective.
“I talk to family, friends, anyone about what it’s like to live with an LVAD,” she says. “I tell them about the medications I’m on. How I live, how I sleep, how every night I plug up to the wall and put my batteries in a crate.”
Then her doctor recommended she volunteer with the American Heart Association. She now shares her story at various events.
Giambra likes to call Mathews “Wonder Woman” because of all she has endured “with grace, strength and triumph” and her commitment to maintain a positive outlook and advocate for others.
“Even when she’s getting horrendous news, she says, ‘Oh I’m blessed. I just want to be here for my children,'” Giambra adds. “I tell her, ‘You need to be the face of surviving heart failure.'”
Mathews, now 43, realizes that going from anti-LVAD to LVAD advocate gives her a unique perspective.
“God has given me a second chance so I can help someone else,” she shares. “If it’s just one person I help, I am thankful for that.
“Now I’m happy. I am living life. We’re making memories.”
What is postpartum cardiomyopathy?
Postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), is an uncommon form of heart failure that happens during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth.
PPCM is rare in the United States, Canada, and Europe. About 1,000 to 1,300 women develop the condition in the U.S. each year.
For many women, PPCM may be difficult to detect because symptoms of heart failure can mimic the symptoms you would typically experience in your third-trimester pregnancy, such as swelling in the feet and legs, and some shortness of breath.
To get an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will look for signs of fluid in the lungs using a stethoscope to listen for lung crackles, a rapid heart rate or abnormal heart sounds. An echocardiogram can also detect cardiomyopathy by showing the diminished functioning of the heart.
PPCM is diagnosed when the following three criteria are met:
- Heart failure develops in the last month of pregnancy or within five months of delivery.
- Heart pumping is reduced, with an ejection fraction (EF) less than 45% (typically measured by an echocardiogram). EF is how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction. A normal EF can be between 55 and 70.
- No other cause for heart failure with reduced EF can be found.
If you spot any of the following symptoms, it is important to see a doctor:
- Feeling of heart racing or skipping beats (palpitations)
- Increased nighttime urination
- Shortness of breath with activity and when lying flat
- Swollen ankles
- Swollen neck veins
- Low blood pressure, or it may drop when standing up
You can maintain a strong heart by avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise. This routine will also be important if you develop PPCM because you are at high risk of developing the same condition with future pregnancies.
By American Heart Association News