A few months after having a baby, Marian Dancy was struggling to find out why she didn’t feel right. After several doctor appointments and tests, she finally had an answer: peripartum cardiomyopathy. She encourages other women, especially new moms, to listen to their body, keep advocating for themselves and seek help.
Six months after delivering her fourth child, Marian Dancy began noticing some odd symptoms. She had fatigue and swelling, then one day at work, she lost her vision for about 20 seconds.
The Columbus, Ohio, woman made a doctor’s appointment but didn’t get any answers. Then 35, she was told she was young and healthy and to keep an eye on things.
Marian monitored her symptoms, which grew to include congestion when she lay down to sleep. When things got worse, she scheduled a virtual appointment with another doctor. They couldn’t find anything wrong and saw nothing in her family history that provided any answers. She was told it could be a virus going around.
Marian was feeling dismissed. She knew she didn’t feel right. Her muscles felt fatigued. It was hard to walk. She was winded. She couldn’t lie down flat to sleep. This was the third flare-up in a month. She decided to go to the emergency room. There, they checked her blood pressure, which was low, and did an electrocardiogram, or EKG, and some other tests. The EKG did not show anything of concern. They did find some fluids in her lungs, and Marian was diagnosed with pneumonia. Taking the prescribed antibiotic and using the inhaler she was given only seemed to make things worse.
Then one morning she woke up with a frightening thought.
“I had this feeling like, if you don't figure this out now, it's a wrap. It’s done,” she said.
Home alone, she called the nurse referral number on the back of her insurance card and begged to see someone that day. Most doctors were either booked or off because it was close to Thanksgiving. Luckily, there was one available appointment, and she had 30 minutes to get there. She crawled into her car and drove, then struggled to walk into the building.
The nurse noticed Marian was taking quick, shallow breaths. She performed an EKG and rushed out of the room to get the doctor.
“I don’t mean to scare you, but I believe I’m seeing a case of heart failure,” the doctor said.
Marian was admitted to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare form of heart failure most often diagnosed during the last months of pregnancy or in the months after giving birth. The condition causes the heart chambers to enlarge and the muscle to weaken, leading to less blood flow.
While in the hospital, Marian prayed at night, listening to others around her struggling, and wondered if she would ever leave there.
“I thought, I have to make out of here for my children. They need me. My baby needs me,” she said.
Two weeks later, she finally was able to go home. Marian left in a defibrillator vest in case her heart stopped or needed to be shocked back into a normal rhythm. Within six months, that was replaced by a defibrillator/pacemaker.
She followed a low-sodium diet, took medications and did cardiac therapy. She didn’t realize her stress could be a problem until she was asked about it. So, she began to see a counselor as part of her recovery.
“I sorted through all of the emotional weight that I was carrying as a mom and a career woman and as a wife,” said Marian, now 39, who was married at the time.
She wants other women, especially new moms, to know that they matter, and they can’t be their best if they don’t take care of themselves as well.
“It's important to take the time and listen to your body, to advocate for yourself. If need be, to take that rest, to ask for help, to dive into what does self-care look like,” she said. “I think a lot of times, women, we wear many hats, and we put a lot on ourselves, and don't really just pause and take time. Those are things that could be life changing for us.”
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