Shemellar Davis was just 29 when, shortly after a pregnancy, she was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy and high blood pressure.
Shemellar Davis discovered a serious problem with her heart after giving birth to her second son. Her blood pressure spiked during delivery, and it was hard to stabilize. The 29-year-old didn’t feel well for a couple of days, leading doctors to perform an echocardiogram.
The heart ultrasound pinpointed the issue: an enlarged heart struggling to function. A cardiologist diagnosed Davis with postpartum cardiomyopathy, a form of pregnancy-related heart failure, coupled with hypertension.
“I really didn’t worry about it because I didn’t realize how serious it was,” said Davis, now 46 and a fifth-grade teacher near Houston. “I thought it was something that just happened because I was pregnant and then it would go away.”
About three weeks later, Davis’ mother passed away at age 52 from complications of congestive heart failure. The diagnosis wasn’t something the family ever really talked about.
“We were devastated. Her death came out of nowhere. She went to sleep and didn’t wake up,” Davis said. “She hadn’t been sick. We knew she had cardiovascular disease and was on the list for a heart transplant, but I didn’t think she was going to die.”
Davis started asking questions about her family’s heart history. She found out she had uncles who passed away from heart attacks. Her grandmother died of a heart complication giving birth to her youngest son.
“After the death of my mother,” she said, “I thought I’m going to be the one who dies from it as well.”
Davis talked to her cardiologist, who prescribed a beta blocker for her heart and a medicine to help with her high blood pressure. She learned to watch her sodium intake and changed her diet. Thankfully, Davis is no longer considered in heart failure but still takes medication.
“My family is slim, so it’s deceiving that all these tall, slender people had cardiovascular disease,” she said. “We have to educate ourselves, as well as others, that just because we look a certain way, it doesn’t mean that we are healthy.”
Davis monitors her blood pressure before she gets out of bed and records the numbers. She can adjust her medication as needed. In addition to changing her eating habits, Davis runs three times a week and does yoga to help reduce the stress of her job.
“I have to make sure that I’m taking care of myself, as well as doing a good job professionally because that’s important, and I want to be around for my boys,” she said.
Davis believes she may have been living with hypertension for a while, but it went undiagnosed because she had no symptoms. She is not alone in dealing with hypertension, which has been called the “silent killer.” Nearly 58% of Black women have high blood pressure. High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy is associated with a 67% higher risk of later cardiovascular disease.
Davis said she “felt abnormal” being diagnosed with a heart condition at 29 and felt out of place going to the cardiologist’s office with older people. She also felt alone because she didn’t know anyone with postpartum cardiomyopathy. While she had been embarrassed to share her heart journey with people outside of her family, she hopes telling her story will benefit others.
“I want other people to understand that just because you feel like you are healthy and look a certain way does not mean you are not at risk. Go to the doctor. Get your checkups. Ask questions because I never asked questions before,” she said.
“Make sure you know your history, because we really didn’t know our history until a tragedy happened.”
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