THURSDAY, July 29, 2021 (American Heart Association News) – During her third trimester, Kristy Novillo struggled to show around the Redmond, Wash., Daycare center where she worked as a principal. Walking and talking at the same time left her breathless.
Two months after giving birth to her son, Dominic, Kristy was still out of breath. Her attending physician suspected allergic asthma and sent her home with a few inhalers.
A month later, Kristy and her husband, Jorge, went camping along the Olympic Peninsula. Kristy was so out of breath that she could barely climb the three steps of their new trailer.
Jorge took her to the emergency room. A CT scan found fluid in his lungs. Doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and prescribed a strong antibiotic.
When Kristy did not improve, she returned to her primary care doctor. The discovery of an abnormal heart rhythm led her to see a cardiologist, which led to another diagnosis: peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare form of heart failure that occurs in late pregnancy or within a few months of pregnancy. ‘childbirth. The cardiologist scheduled an angiogram for her which would provide more details.
Later that day, she sat down on her couch, suddenly feeling hot, then cold. Her mother took her blood pressure. He was dangerously low. Then Kristy started to cough up blood. Her mother dialed 911.
At the hospital, doctors determined that Kristy was in cardiogenic shock – her heart couldn’t pump enough blood to supply her body.
Further tests showed Kristy had end-stage heart failure. A heart valve did not close completely, allowing fluid to pool in her heart and lungs. She had emergency surgery to implant a device in the left side of her heart to help pump blood.
“They said it was the only option for survival,” Jorge said.
It was also temporary. Once stable, Kristy would need a new heart.
“When I heard that I needed a heart transplant, it was a total and complete shock,” Kristy said. No one in her family had a history of heart disease. “I was devastated. It sounds so scary. The thought of someone else having to die for me to live was intimidating.”
The device implantation procedure appeared to be going well. Then, the next morning, Kristy could no longer move her hand or her left foot. She had had a stroke during the operation.
She spent three weeks in intensive care and an additional two months in the hospital. When the device on the left side of his heart stopped working, doctors implanted one in the right side. Next, she needed a mechanical pump inserted into her heart. During this operation, his heart stopped; the doctors restarted it by squeezing it with their hands.
“Your priorities change, your perspectives change,” Jorge said. “You focus on being alive and being the best human you can be, and you realize that you don’t have as much time as you think.”
Jorge brought Dominic to the medical center so the mother and son could take a nap together. Kristy also managed to keep her sense of humor.
When colleagues noticed her watching a Ryan Reynolds movie more than once, they purchased a life-size cutout of the actor for his hospital room. Kristy often placed it near her door at night to surprise the night nurses.
Finally, Kristy was well enough to return home to wait for news of her transplant. The call came about a year after her first heart operation. She returned home less than two weeks later.
“I was determined not to have another three month stay,” she said.
At home, Kristy struggled not to be able to take care of herself and Dominic. It wasn’t just the transplant that weakened her; she too was still recovering from her stroke. Therapy helped her come to terms with letting others help.
Almost two years after her heart transplant, Kristy feels like a new person. She can walk short distances with a cane and help cook dinner and do groceries, and she works to strengthen her left hand.
“Everything has improved since the transplant,” she said. “I had so much anxiety before that. With that behind me, I can breathe a huge sigh of relief.”
She worries about how being separated from Dominic when he is born will affect her. But so far, it seems the experience has made him more compassionate.
“If I drop something, he stops what he’s doing and comes to help me,” Kristy said.
Looking back, she said, she’s grateful for her stroke because it forced her to rest. She was unable to resume her usual routine after the initial three-month hospital stay.
“This is something I don’t think you will hear from most stroke survivors, but in all honesty I think my stroke could have saved my life,” she said. “I firmly believe that having a stroke really forced me to slow down and helped me achieve a successful transplant.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments on this story, please email [email protected]
By Deborah Lynn Blumberg