Many people refer to the culture at National Life as one of family. The genuine caring and interest we have for one another is obvious, especially when a crisis situation arises. Recently my colleagues Terri Carlyle and her sister-in-law and fellow National Life employee Mona McCain shared their niece’s story with me, bringing attention to a silent killer. Here it is in their words.
Our niece, Jillian DeFreest Weaver, has always been the picture of health, hiking 30 miles every week and eating clean, nutritious food. During her second pregnancy though, things seemed to suddenly change.
Last year, when Jillian was 6 months into her second pregnancy she suddenly blacked out. This was the first indication that something was wrong. Her husband Micah raced her to the ER, they ran several tests, but everything seemed normal and she was released. She passed out again three weeks later. She was taken to the ER again, had even more tests, and was again released as everything looked normal.
Jillian continued her normal routine, but every day she grew weaker and weaker. All of her symptoms still seemed to reflect normal pregnancy symptoms: shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea. Her family continued to encourage her to get additional testing, fearing that something much more serious was going on. Jillian continued to go to work, but had to be wheeled to her desk in a chair by her co-workers because she could not make it on her own. Then she began to wake at night, gasping for air.
Jillian’s family encouraged her to get a second opinion and she was referred to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center the following day. That same day, a physician at Dartmouth reviewed her records, called her that evening and told her that he wanted to admit her as soon as she could get there. Jillian was then diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomypothy, a rare heart condition that women get in late pregnancy. The severity of her case was extreme. Dartmouth walked through every possible scenario for delivering her baby and decided the best place for that to happen was at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. She was transferred to Tufts that evening.
Upon arriving at Tufts, her family learned that Jillian’s life was in danger, that giving birth may be too much strain on Jillian’s heart causing it to stop. It took about 48 hours for her very large team of doctors to determine the safest way to deliver her baby. Fortunately, Ezra was born safe and healthy on Saturday, October 15, 2016, the first baby ever to be born in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Tufts. Ezra joined 2 year-old sister Zoe.
It was determined that Jillian’s condition was so advanced it was likely a condition she had for a long time, possibly even her entire life without knowing it. At this point, her heart is so weak that she had a defibrillator implanted and will begin the screening process to get on the heart transplant list.
While the need for a previously-thought-of healthy 30 year-old needing a heart transplant is unusual, the American Heart Association shares that heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!
Did you know, according to WebMD:
- Each year, heart disease claims the lives of more women then breast cancer and lung cancer combined.
- A greater percentage of women die within one year of a heart attack than men.
- The death rate of African-American women due to cardiovascular disease is greater than white women.
- Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.
So what can you do to protect yourself or someone you love?
- Consider your family history. If diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure runs in it, share that with your doctor.
- Be aware of warning signs, especially those that are often misdiagnosed. Symptoms of heart failure can include fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness or dizziness, nausea or sweating.
- Maintain a healthy weight through exercise and diet.
- Don’t smoke.
- If you find that you’re stressed, talk to your doctor to find solutions to alleviate it.
For more on Jillian’s story, click here.
For more resources on heart health, click here.