Real Woman 2021 Jessica Diede

Diagnosed with heart failure during her second pregnancy, Jessica Diede wants to raise awareness about maternal heart disease.

Jessica Diede and her husband, Greg, were thrilled to be second-time parents.

At  20 weeks pregnant, Jessica started getting winded, her heartbeat racing for what seemed like no good reason. Lying on her side was the only thing that made her feel better. Her OB-GYN suspected anxiety and suggested medication to treat her symptoms.

But she had dealt with anxiety before, and this wasn’t it.

“Why would anxiety go away by turning or with different maneuvers?” asked Jessica, 30.

Determined to get to the bottom of it, she asked for a referral to a cardiologist, who did an echocardiogram to put her mind at ease. Instead, it revealed that Jessica had cardiomyopathy. Her heart was failing.

“He said I could die during childbirth,” she said. “When you get news like that, everything pauses and gets quiet around you.”

When her OB-GYN heard the news, he referred her to a specialist. She would also have to give birth at a different hospital than the one she had picked out — one better equipped for cases like hers.

“I pictured a natural birth in my house with no epidural, but I accepted that I wasn’t in control,” she said. “I wanted to survive.”

Jessica’s first pregnancy was no walk in the park either. Diagnosed with a type of high blood pressure that can cause stroke or even death, she went on to develop gestational diabetes and peripartum cardiomyopathy, spending the final two months of her pregnancy in the hospital.

“The preeclampsia may have weakened my heart,” she said. “They don’t know for sure.”

Jessica faced gestational diabetes again during her second pregnancy, adding to the risk. As the weeks passed, she felt worse and worse. Sometimes, lying on her side was the only way she could breathe easily. She felt like she was being juggled between all the different specialists.

“It’s scary when the doctors don’t know what to do for you,” she said.

When Jessica was 34 weeks pregnant, her breathing labored and her oxygen levels dropping, doctors induced labor, explaining that a cesarean section would be too hard on her heart. For the same reason, they couldn’t give her too much pain medicine.

“I was scared to push,” she said. “It was a big mess.”

Born six weeks early, Remington spent the first few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.

After giving birth, Jessica’s ejection fraction steadily increased, but her heart still beat too rapidly on occasion and for seemingly no good reason. After seeing three cardiologists, she was finally diagnosed with an atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia, or AVNRT1. She underwent a procedure called an ablation, which destroyed the part of the heart that was causing the problem.

When Remington was a year old, Jessica finally started cardiac rehab. Today, she can walk up a flight of stairs “and not feel anxious about it,” she said. And since she can walk without getting winded as easily, she no longer hunts for the closest spot in the grocery store parking lot.

But she still feels her heart flapping in her chest now and then. And when she lays on her side or lifts weights, her heart skips — something it had never done before — and doctors aren’t sure why. But while annoying at times, the symptoms don’t stop her from pumping iron and doing a bit of cardio, “so my heart stays strong,” she said.

Grateful to have two healthy children, Jessica hopes to educate those in the health care industry and expecting mothers about the risks of maternal heart disease. While she had symptoms of the condition, such as swollen legs and shortness of breath:

“Nobody believed me because I was younger and had no family history,” she said.

“Keep pushing to get answers,” she added. “You might be right like I was.”