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Heart Month: New mother battles heart failure days after giving birth

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LACEY, Wash.,-- Many expecting mothers do a lot of research ahead of giving birth. Jennifer Rohe lives in Lacey. She had no idea what was in store for her and her heart after the birth of her second child.

4-year-old Weston and 2-year-old Sienna are Jennifer's entire world.  She says,  “I cherish the moments with my children so much.”

The duo fills Jennifer's heart, but the heart in her chest right now is not hers.

A week After Sienna was born, Jennifer was diagnosed with an idiopathic condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy or PPCM, “I was trying to walk up just one flight of stairs in my home and I made it hallway up the stairs and I couldn’t make it any farther. I was literally on my hands and knees just crawling up the stairs because I didn’t have the ability to get up to my bedroom.”

PPCM happens when the heart muscle weakens during the final months of pregnancy or within the the first five months after delivery.

Jennifer thought she knew everything about pregnancy,  “I had never heard of Peripartum cardiomyopathy and I didn’t know you could go into heart failure or anything could go wrong with your heart, really.”

With her heart failing, the doctors chose to place Jennifer on one of the highest forms of life-support… Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ecmo, while they weighed their options.

“They decided that my heart was performing so poorly that I would have to get the total artificial heart and just had my heart completely removed and replaced with a total artificial heart.”

While she had no control of the situation, she refused to let her world crumble beneath her. Instead, Jennifer focused on her purpose of being a mother to her son and newborn baby, “I wanted to have that connection with her… They always say that you should have skin to skin with your child, but I had so many bandages and like things all over me, but you know I found like one section on my stomach that didn’t have a bandage on it, and I’m like okay, we are gonna do skin to skin, you’re gonna lay your head right here, and we are gonna have our moment, we’re gonna bond because I’m gonna take care of you the rest of your life and you’re gonna know me.”

Jennifer had another close call shortly after her first surgery. A really scary thing happened, “My brain wasn’t working and I like couldn’t think, and they were like what’s wrong, Jen? And I’m like “heavy Heavy” and that’s the only word, I just kept saying it over and over again. Because I was talking about how heavy the left side of my body was, I’m like “heavy heavy heavy…”

At just 30 years old, she had suffered heart failure and now, a stroke.

But soon after that, finally some hope, “I found out I had a match in January of 2018 at the beginning of the month.”

She was getting a new heart from a man in Spokane. His parents tell Jennifer he really loved kids.

“That person was able to continue to help me live and go on to raise my children, it’s something that I can’t even express—I am so grateful for him and what he was able to provide to me.”

But this wouldn't come easy for Jennifer either, “Eventually, they came back and told my family that the donor heart had stopped working and that they were gonna put me back on ecmo."

Doctors telling Jennifer there was a 50-50 shot the heart would start working again, and 5 days later, thankfully, Jennifer’s new heart started beating on it's own. Now, Jennifer desperately wants other women to know PPCM is largely preventable, urging women to request blood tests for it during pregnancy, “It’s very sad, because it’s all these women that have very young children and they’re left without their mothers.”

Because every new mom deserves to have the chance to be a mom to her baby.

“It’s what I always wanted... I want to play with them, I want to see them grow, I want to see them graduate from high school, I want to see them get married, and I’m very hopeful that I’ll get to see all that.”

Jennifer now takes several different medications and will need to for the rest of her life, but she says it’s a small price to pay to be able to be here with her kids.  Because of her medication, Jennifer says she will likely need a kidney transplant in the future. And she says she will tackle that head on, too.

 

To follow Jennifer's heart journey, you can check out her blog: ThisMommysHeart

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