Heart failure

Signs and symptoms of heart failure by an Australian mother who had a transplant weeks after giving birth

Mum-of-newborn Emily Smith, 26, was happy, healthy and newly engaged when she started suffering from some common symptoms.

Feeling tired and complaining of flu-like aches and pains, the new mum blamed them on late night feedings, the stress of the wedding plan and a bad cold.

But just six weeks after giving birth, Emily found she didn’t have a cold at all – she needed a new heart and a fast.

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Scans revealed that Emily’s heart – which should have been the size of a clenched fist – was actually two and a half times higher and only functioning at 5%.

Emily Smith with fiancé Dylan and son Hudson Credit: Provided

The shock news came after what had been a classic pregnancy for Emily, from NSW, and her fiancé Dylan.

Everything had been going well until, after four days off, Emily went in for a routine ultrasound.

It was then that an anomaly was detected.

“My baby was about four weeks behind where he should have been,” says Emily 7life.

With doctors concerned about the little boy’s development, Emily was induced that night.

Emily put her worries aside and focused on delivering baby Hudson, who weighed just 2.9kg.

He was small, but perfect, and two days later he was well enough to join his parents at home.

Out of breath

Emily threw herself into the whirlwind of new motherhood, but gradually she began to feel bad.

“It was about six weeks after giving birth and I felt so sick,” she explains.

“I thought I had a lung infection.”

Soon, Emily was struggling to walk from the living room to her bedroom without getting out of breath.

Sometimes the mother gasped, she lost her appetite, and many times she thought she was going to pass out.

Emily received a heart transplant aged just 26
Emily received a heart transplant aged just 26 Credit: Provided

Her doctor recommended a lung test in case she had a blood clot.

“Apparently it was a pretty common postpartum issue,” Emily says.

“He didn’t seem too worried, but to have some peace of mind, I went to the ER that night for an x-ray.”

Worried about her six-week-old baby, Emily didn’t want to take any chances with her own health and drove to the small district hospital closest to her home.

However, as hospital staff reviewed her scans, their tone about Emily’s condition changed.

The small local hospital made the decision to transfer the mother to a larger and better equipped hospital so that she could undergo further tests.

There, the 26-year-old learned that she had peripartum cardiomyopathy – a rare form of heart failure that occurs during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth

But Emily’s enlarged heart was functioning at 5-10% and the symptoms she was experiencing were those of heart failure.

As doctors deliberated on the best course of action, Emily’s condition worsened.

The new mum was then told that a new heart would be the only option.

“It took me about two hours to figure out the news,” says Emily.

“But in the end, it was a life-saving operation.

“If that’s what I need so I can watch my son grow up and finally get married, well that’s what it is.”

The perfect match

Placed on the emergency transplant list, Emily was added to Australian and New Zealand directories.

The staff informed her that she might receive a few phone calls about potential matches, but not to give her hope, as it could take years to find her perfect heart.

Unable to leave hospital and with strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, Emily desperately missed her family and prayed that she would soon find a heart.

And after just a week and a half, she received her first possible heart match.

“It was a bit strange to get that call,” she reveals.

“Obviously someone had to die for me to get the heart…”

Miraculously, the heart was a perfect match.

Emily will be forever grateful to her donor for giving her a second chance at life
Emily will be forever grateful to her donor for giving her a second chance at life Credit: Provided

Emily was quickly prepped for surgery and taken into the operating room.

Her old heart was successfully removed and the new one took its place.

She was also fitted with a temporary pacemaker to help her body transition.

“Everything went well,” smiles Emily.

“I woke up and I wasn’t really in pain, it was just my stitches that were causing me discomfort.”

Emily spent seven weeks in hospital and finally came out with a brand new heart
Emily spent seven weeks in hospital and finally came out with a brand new heart Credit: Provided

Not only was the transplant successful, but her body quickly accepted the new heart and her pacemaker was removed.

Two weeks later, Emily was discharged from the hospital with a brand new heart and a smile from ear to ear.

“I don’t really think it’s anyone else’s heart,” she reveals. “It’s my heart, but it just took a different journey to become my heart.”

Finally, after a long wait, Emily was well enough to hold Hudson in her arms.

The mom is now an organ donation advocate sharing the real possibility of saving lives.

Emily will never know the stranger who saved her life.

But as she cuddles her baby boy for the first time in months, she remains eternally grateful for their gift.

“My son still has his mother,” she says.

Emily’s story is an example of Australian resilience. A recent study conducted by NobleOak found that in the face of difficult times, Australians are taking positive action to protect those they love. Australians value family time and those who do are happier. The research also found that Australians are also more willing to cut back on education expenses, before life insurance, demonstrating a desire to protect our family and loved ones in the future.