Atlanta, Ga. (February 10, 2014) – When Teah Bramlett, a 32 year-old woman from Calhoun, Ga., found it increasingly harder to breathe as she neared the final weeks of her pregnancy, she knew something was very wrong but didn’t know what it was until she woke up at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital from a medically-induced coma.
Bramlett turned to her OBGYN for help two months into her pregnancy. She had been experiencing shortness of breath that worsened every month. Unbeknownst to her, Bramlett was suffering from peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare disorder that causes the heart to fail and affects approximately four out of 10,000 births every year.
“Every time I went to see my doctor, I told her I always felt like I couldn’t breathe,” said Bramlett, whose heart beats today with the help of a heart pump, called a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD). “My doctor insisted this feeling was normal – that my baby may be sitting on my lungs. I can’t help but think that if my doctor had listened to me in the first place, the outcome might have been different.”
At 12 weeks pregnant, Bramlett’s heart was functioning normally. By the ninth month, her heart was functioning at less than 15 percent. One night before delivering her healthy baby boy, Bramlett went to a local emergency room after she awoke in the middle of the night, unable to catch her breath. Bramlett was certain she was dying.
“They ran tests while I was in the ER but everything came back normal,” said Bramlett. “They said I was fine, the baby was fine and I wasn’t in labor. Then, they made me wait until morning when the OBGYN who was on-call came by to evaluate me. It was one of the longest nights of my life.”
It was then Bramlett was rushed to a hospital in Chattanooga, TN, where she delivered her baby boy and went into cardiogenic shock. She was airlifted to Piedmont Atlanta where she was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a machine that does the work of the heart when it is too damaged to function.
“Traditionally, ECMO machines are used for newborns in respiratory distress,” said David Dean, M.D., Piedmont Heart. “But we also use it to treat adults when their hearts and lungs can’t function on their own. Often times, like in Teah’s case, ECMO gives our patients a fighting chance at life.”
When Bramlett woke up, she decided to let Dr. Dean implant the LVAD to help her heart pump blood throughout her body. After the surgery, Bramlett spent three weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU) and two additional weeks at Piedmont Atlanta. The hope is that her heart will recover and eventually, she won’t need the LVAD. If, however, her heart does not recover, Bramlett will be listed for a heart transplant.
“To this day, because of my weakened heart, I cannot pick my baby up,” said Bramlett, who has no family history of heart disease. “I can hold him when I’m sitting down, but I can’t go over to him when he’s crying and pick him up myself. There is nothing worse than feeling like you can’t care for your own child.”
For more information about heart failure, visit piedmontheart.org.