Emma Connors from Clondalkin in Dublin was diagnosed with heart failure days after having her first baby.
When Emma became pregnant, she and her partner Chris were so excited to start on this new journey. Emma picked up health information leaflets along the way to learn the top tips needed for having a newborn or life as a new mum.
“When I was pregnant, I was relatively healthy, with no high blood pressure or heart issues, but had gestational diabetes. When I went into labour I thought the pain might be a kidney infection as I had suffered with these in the past, so the Doctor gave me a bag of fluid to flush it out along with some antibiotics.”
Emma went into labour five weeks early and had to be dropped off alone at the hospital by her partner, as it was during the COVID-19 outbreak. “I was given an epidural and bag of fluid which slowed down my labour. I had two or three extra bags of fluid overall.”
A healthy baby boy arrived at 10.30 am on 12 February 2021, Baby JJ, weighing 6 lbs. With a little bit of jaundice, JJ had his blood taken and was given some light treatment before they were allowed to leave to go home.
“When I was carrying JJ into the hospital for a check-up in his car seat, I got really out of breath, but after having a baby I expected this and stopped for a short breath before continuing on."
I asked Chris to meet me at the hospital door and carry the car seat back to the car. Then when walking up the hill to the car, I was so out of breath and kept having to stop.”
But things took a turn for the worse when Emma arrived home. “The hospital called and said we needed to take JJ back to the hospital immediately as his blood results had come back showing the jaundice had returned and he needed attention quickly. I wasn’t worried when I arrived as I had been told jaundice was nothing to worry about, however when I arrived at the hospital it was panic stations, the nurses grabbed JJ out of my arms and took him to take a covid swab, and he was screaming crying and I wasn’t allowed to hold him or comfort him and they just ran him up to the NICU, I wasn’t allowed up with him due to covid restrictions, it was very overwhelming, I became very upset and emotional and for the second time that day I couldn’t catch my breath.”
After returning home that evening, Emma, age 35, said that her legs doubled in size, and it was recommended that she drink plenty of water and elevate her feet. The compression socks were very tight, marking her legs but after massaging them Emma went asleep. She woke up in the middle of the night unable to catch her breath. She tried to stay calm thinking she was having a panic attack but knew something was wrong, she thought at that time the breathlessness could be COVID-19. “I was unsure if I should go to the hospital if it was COVID, but I felt that if I didn’t get to a hospital soon that very shortly, I wouldn’t be able to breathe at all”.
“My partner brought me straight to the hospital where I really struggled to walk to the hospital door. I stopped and leaned up against a railing to catch my breath. When I entered the Emergency Department tent at the Mater Hospital the triage nurse took my vitals, oxygen, blood pressure, and heart rate, all of which were alarming. The triage nurse immediately admitted me into the hospital.
“Within 20 minutes I had a COVID-19 swab taken, a chest x-ray, and blood taken. The x-ray showed that I had fluid in my lungs which needed to be removed. The catheter removed over 8kgs in weight of fluid from my body over the five days I was in the hospital – I felt like a deflated balloon. I lost a further 8kg in fluid over the next few weeks”.
Later that day, Dr. Emer Joyce, the Cardiac Consultant in the hospital, diagnosed Emma with post-natal heart failure.
“It was so terrifying. How could this happen to me? My whole life was going to change. This was supposed to be an exciting time, going home with a new baby.”
Emma said the treatment she received in the hospital was brilliant. “It was such a shock to me, but they saved my life. They really couldn’t do enough for me, and they deserve five stars.”
Following the diagnosis of post-natal heart failure, Emma is keeping well and managing her condition. Heart failure has had a big impact on Emma’s life, with many worrying thoughts. She has made changes to her lifestyle including ensuring she takes her medication each day, weighing herself each day to monitor any fluid gain, reducing her salt and alcohol intake, restricting her fluid intake to 1.5ltrs a day, eating more oily fish, and being more physically active.
She emphasises that it is so important to take time for herself and she enjoys getting outdoors for walks with JJ and the dog and socialising with her friends.
She is happy to share her story for the Her Heart Matters campaign and wants to highlight this condition to other women. “I thought I did all the research when I was pregnant, but I didn’t see anything about post-natal heart failure anywhere.
"It’s so important for women to listen to their bodies. I wrote off my breathlessness so many times."
“It’s so important for women to listen to their bodies. I wrote off my breathlessness so many times, but my body was drowning in fluid.”
Emma, who is a legal secretary, is also living with high blood pressure, which her mum also has, and has a low heart rate.
She is a member of the Irish Heart Foundations Heart Support Network which she benefits from chatting with people who have gone through a similar experience to her and is a “safe space to ask a question.”
“I feel so lucky to be able to return to normal life. Your heart does matter, look after it.”
The Irish Heart Foundation’s Her Heart Matters campaign highlights that one in four women dies from heart disease and stroke and encourages women to look after their hearts by making small, sustainable lifestyle changes.