Heart failure

Mother with pregnancy-related heart failure reflects on childbirth while in coma

CLEVELAND (WJW) — Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic say when a young mother arrived in their intensive care unit, they worried they could save her. Years later, she’s celebrating Mother’s Day with a new heart.

This story begins with the dream of becoming a mother. In 2012, Alicia Keeney’s dream was starting to come true.

“I found out it was a boy. I was so blessed and excited, and had a normal pregnancy until it wasn’t,” she said.

Doctors diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy, or pregnancy-induced heart failure, and at 34 weeks, the West Virginia mother noticed something was wrong.

“I couldn’t breathe so badly that I couldn’t hold my hands above my head to wash my hair or anything, and I was throwing up,” she said.

Keeney was rushed to her local hospital and only remembers getting into an elevator. Doctors there felt they had done all they could and six weeks later she woke up from a coma at the Cleveland clinic.

“I was confined to a bed. I had tubes coming out of everywhere. I was so confused and I was like, ‘I was pregnant…I know I was pregnant,’” Keeney said.

Her son, Easton, had been delivered in an emergency cesarean section. Keeney says she’ll never forget to hold it for the first time.

“I just remember crying so hard and I was like, ‘I’m a mum, mum’ and she was wiping my face because I was, you know, tears were pouring everywhere. I was completely inundated” , she said.

“She arrived seriously ill and was put on a machine called ECMO which is really life support. It’s a heart-lung machine to keep his organs plentiful and pump blood to his brain, kidneys and liver,” said Dr. Maria Mountis.

Dr Mountis says the entire clinic team considered Alicia’s options and finally decided to give her a heart pump. The implant was a temporary solution and two years later they knew she needed a new heart.

Keeney describes the transplant as the easiest surgery she has ever had. Now she can celebrate Mother’s Day weekend with her nine-year-old son.

It’s a dream come true.

“My favorite part is just the connection I have with him. And realizing that, like, I thought I knew love before, but I had absolutely no idea,” she said.

Doctors say symptoms of pregnancy-induced heart failure, such as shortness of breath and swelling, can be confusing because they also occur in normal pregnancies.