Written by Poonam Shah
I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy or heart failure after I gave birth to our firstborn in 2007. This came as a shock to me and my family. I had just had an emergency C-section.
We knew my blood count/hemoglobin was dangerously low at 6 grams per deciliter (normal range for women is between 12.0 and 15.5). But we had no idea that the pregnancy or the blood count had affected my heart.
My ejection fraction (EF), which is the amount of blood pumped out of the ventricles with each contraction, was less than 40% at the time (normal range for women is 55% – 75%). I was back in the hospital but my baby was not allowed to be in my care. I was emotionally and physically drained. I just wanted to be with my son.
My case was sent to the head of cardiology, and I will never forget what he said to me: “The practice of medicine is an art form, not just a science. I want to help reduce your stress and reunite you with your son as soon as possible. Let us help you.” I was refusing to take any medications as I did not want it to affect my ability to nurse my son.
His approach and manner calmed me. We worked out a treatment plan that would also allow me to continue to nurse my son. This quickly eliminated my stress levels, and the bonding time I had with my new baby helped my motivation to fight against heart failure. As soon as I was able to, I pushed myself to walk, to do some deep breathing exercises, and to meditate. Within a week, I was released from the hospital, but I had to continue taking medications.
At home, with the support of my husband and parents, I was able to rest and spend time with my newborn baby. My father kept telling me that I had to beat this for my son. I was too young; I had too much to fight for. I embarked on a diet, exercise and meditation regime. I started with telling myself every day how grateful I was to be alive and to have this beautiful baby. I felt like I was the luckiest new mom – I had the support of both my partner and my parents. I stayed positive and was certain I would recover.
I was on maternity leave for 4 months. I wanted a clean bill of health by the time I started working again, but it took longer than that to recover fully. However, I kept at the diet, light exercise, and meditation regimen.
I incorporated green veggies, good fats like avocado, and dates to help increase my hemoglobin. I also started taking iron infusions to help increase my iron levels and hemoglobin. Exercise and mediation helped keep my stress levels low. I took the time to be present at the moment, practicing positive reinforcement. I cherished every moment I spent with our son. Six months later, my EF had improved to the point where it was almost normal. I was overjoyed! I was hopeful. A few months later, in 2008, we realized that I was expecting once more. Given my experience with the earlier pregnancy, the doctors were concerned. However, with the help of modern medicine, diet, light exercise and meditation, I was able to go through another pregnancy and keep my heart from a relapse.
We are blessed with two healthy kids, and over time, my heart failure has fully recovered. Don’t let anyone tell you that can’t recover from heart failure. I’m living proof that you can.
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