Abigail Findley, 37, from Amersham explains how she's learning to live with her heart condition...
Everything was going smoothly. I was expecting my second baby, and couldn’t wait to meet her. My husband Matt, 40, and I already had our son Freddie, then 18 months. But, in the weeks leading up to delivery, I felt a bit breathless.
I put it down to being heavily pregnant but, days after giving birth to Grace in February 2011, it was worse, and I was having chest pains. I was too weak and out of breath even to climb the stairs.
‘This isn’t right,’ I told Matt.
I phoned my doctor, who dismissed it as post-delivery anxiety. Only, I’d not been feeling anxious at all.
Soon, even walking from one room to another left me out of puff. And I’d wake gasping for breath. I felt constantly tired, but could only sleep propped up in bed.
Eventually, I saw a different doctor, who instructed me to go straight to A&E…
At Stoke Mandeville Hospital, I had a series of blood tests and a chest X-ray. Then…
‘You’ve got an enlarged heart,’ a doctor told me.
I was referred to a cardiologist, who confirmed I had peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM). It’s a rare form of heart failure affecting women towards the end
of their pregnancy or in the months after delivery.
‘It causes a decline in the percentage of blood ejected from the heart,’ the cardiologist said.
This means other organs don’t receive enough oxygen.
‘Will I be OK?’ I asked, anxious.
The cardiologist explained I had a 40 per cent chance of a full recovery, a 40 per cent chance of staying on medication for life, and a 20 per cent chance of needing a heart transplant.
Doing my best to stay positive, I was admitted to Wycombe General Hospital for treatment.
Grace was still only a few days old, so doctors allowed her to stay with me, although I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed during treatment.
Freddie stayed with family while Matt came to the hospital whenever he could. Over the next few days, doctors drained excess fluid from my lungs. I was given beta-blockers to help my heart beat more slowly, allowing it to recover, and ACE inhibitors to help treat high blood pressure.
Five days on, I was allowed home, weak and on medication, but slowly recovering.
I had regular checkups at the hospital. And, at my three-year check in 2014, my heart was found to be ejecting 54 per cent of blood – the average is 55-70 per cent. Pleased with my results, the doctor stopped the beta-blockers.
A year later, at my annual checkup, I was feeling fine. But tests revealed the 54 per cent had dropped to the low 40s. I was gutted. Put back on the beta-blockers, I was told I’ll need medication for life.
But it could’ve been a lot worse. My heart could’ve failed completely and I’d have needed a heart transplant.
Now I’m learning to live with my condition. And, thankfully, I’m pretty much symptom-free.
I’ve started volunteering for the charity Cardiomyopathy UK. It provides support to patients, helping them lead a long, fulfilling life, and has been a great support to me.
Last October, I even completed a 10k run. It’s such an achievement, and shows just how far I’ve come.
For more info, go to www.cardiomyopathy.org or call the free helpline on 0800 018 1024.