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American Heart Association News
Tiara Johnson’s second pregnancy went smoothly – until the last month.
“My fingers were so puffy, I couldn’t wear my wedding ring,” she said.
The problem stemmed from her blood pressure. And the rising blood pressure stemmed from preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that usually manifests in the later months.
Tiara, who lives in Fraser, Michigan, was given medication to control her blood pressure. It didn’t work, so a few days later, she was sent to the hospital to have labor induced.
After delivering her second daughter, Azuri, Tiara’s blood pressure remained elevated. When she went home a few days later, she couldn’t get comfortable.
She returned to the hospital. She was treated for fluid retention and sent home again. She continued to feel tired but attributed it to recovery from childbirth and life with a newborn.
Two months later, Tiara passed out in the parking lot at work. Taken by ambulance to a different hospital, she received a different diagnosis: Peripartum cardiomyopathy, an uncommon form of heart failure that happens during the last month of pregnancy or within the first five months after giving birth. A physician said her heart was working at 10% of its normal function.
Over the next three and a half years, Tiara was constantly in and out of the hospital as doctors worked to ease the strain on her heart. Then, in August 2018, doctors wanted to implant a left ventricular assist device, a machine that essentially does the work for the left side of the heart. An LVAD is often used before a patient goes on the heart transplant waiting list.
However, there was another obstacle. Tiara needed to lose weight to become eligible for the list.
By April 2021, she’d lost 110 pounds. She’d reached the acceptable range to receive a heart transplant, so the process of getting on the list began.
The next day, Tiara was waiting in the car while her husband, Gvon, went into a store to get cold medicine for their older daughter when her phone rang. Caller ID showed it was the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor. Within an hour she was on her way to the hospital.
Several days after the transplant, Tiara was walking laps around the unit. She even tidied her hospital room.
Next came learning to get used to having a heart that worked properly.
Tiara still finds herself automatically reaching for her LVAD to find it isn’t there. “I have to remind myself I’m free, I don’t need that anymore.”