WSMV4′s Lauren Lowrey shares story of life-threatening condition after giving birth
Lauren knew something was wrong after giving birth. She asked doctors to “check again.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - WSMV 4 Anchor Lauren Lowrey nearly died after the birth of her second child in 2018. Five days after giving birth to a healthy boy, Lowrey was re-hospitalized for a life-threatening illness that was initially difficult for doctors to diagnose.
“When I went to the hospital all of my tests showed that everything was totally normal,” Lowrey said. “It was maddening because I knew something was wrong, but the tests showed I was fine.”
Lowrey complained of pain in her back, shortness of breath, a constant headache and severe swelling. Her symptoms started five days after giving birth.
“When I was going through it, I had this feeling that if I closed my eyes, I wouldn’t wake up,” Lowrey said. “My body knew something was terribly wrong, but no one could figure out what it was.”
After several hours at the hospital with no diagnosis, doctors nearly sent Lowrey home. It was through her own advocacy that she encouraged the team to run more tests and “check again.”
“There was a point where my doctor said, ‘There’s only one test left in the whole hospital that I can give you, and if this test shows nothing, I have to send you home,’” Lowrey recalled.
The doctor ordered a CT scan, which combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around the body to create cross-sectional images of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues.
The scan revealed what the other tests could not: Lowrey’s lungs were full of fluid and her heart was enlarged. It immediately explained her steadily rising blood pressure, her inability to breathe and the impending feelings of doom – all of which are textbook symptoms of preeclampsia, a traumatic disease that effects 1 in 8 pregnant women.
It was difficult to diagnose in Lowrey because instances of post-partum preeclampsia - which means it happened after a woman gave birth - are uncommon, only occurring about 700 times a year in the U.S.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is defined as a disorder that happens during or immediately following pregnancy that affects both the mother and the unborn baby. It often begins around 32 weeks in pregnancy but can happen as early as 26-weeks gestation. In every case, it results in the immediate delivery of the baby.
Untreated preeclampsia results in stillbirth as well as heart attack, stroke and death for the mother.
The Preeclampsia Foundation defines it as “a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and usually the presence of protein in the urine.”
“We classify preeclampsia as a heart disease,” said Dr. Connie Graves, a high risk OBGYN at Tennessee Maternal Fetal Medicine in Nashville. Graves was not involved in Lowrey’s care in 2018 and participated in this story to educate people on the disease.
“One of the misconceptions about preeclampsia is that it only happens during pregnancy, so when women are readmitted to the hospital, it’s treated as heart failure or they’re given blood pressure medicine and sent home,” Graves said.
Preeclampsia affects 1 in 8 women in the U.S., but in populations where heart disease is more common - as in Tennessee - preeclampsia affects up to 1 in 5 women. Similarly, 1 in 5 women die of heart disease in Tennessee, which Graves calls a full-circle moment.
“So, if you already have diabetes, high blood pressure, being a little overweight – those things are so common in this area! Then, that risk of preeclampsia can go up as high as 1 in 5,” Graves said.
The difficulty in the diagnosis of preeclampsia is that the signs of the disease are common pregnancy symptoms: swelling, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and vomiting to name a few. The most glaring sign of preeclampsia is a rise in blood pressure in the pregnant or post-partum woman.
Long-term impacts of preeclampsia
In 2012, the American Heart Association named preeclampsia an independent risk factor for heart disease and considered the disease a failed cardiac stress test.
“The thing you need to know about preeclampsia is we consider it a window on future cardiac health,” says Dr. Stacy Davis, a Nashville cardiologist who specializes in advanced heart failure and currently participates in Lowrey’s cardiac care since her preeclampsia diagnosis.
“Individuals with preeclampsia actually have a 3-to-4 times risk compared to normal individuals the same age of developing cardiovascular disease,” Davis said. “That doesn’t mean that everyone who has preeclampsia is going to develop it, but it does mean anyone who’s had it should be screened.”
Graves and Davis view preeclampsia as a window into a woman’s future heart health. The disease shows doctors who should receive regular cardiac care in their 20s and 30s as a preventative of heart disease that could develop later in life.
“I was 33 years old when that happened to me, and I’m always at the cardiologist getting my checkups, making sure I’m healthy,” Lowrey said. “Because to me, leaving my family is not an option.”
Advocating for your health
Lowrey shares part of the trauma from that event was from her efforts to fight to be heard. Despite the early test results that showed normal levels within her body, she recalls the inner knowing that something was terribly wrong.
“I had to advocate for myself that night with my 5-day-old baby and my husband right next to me,” Lowrey said. “I had to say to people who’d spent a lot more time in school than I had, ‘Check again. There’s something there. Check again.’ And it saved me.”
Lowrey says that the act of telling her story has brought healing after that devastating event. It’s why the American Heart Association has named her a 2023 Woman of Impact to help raise money and awareness about the instances of heart disease in young women.
“As mothers, we can be at risk of heart disease, too,” Lowrey said. “That’s why if you’ve ever had preeclampsia – even if it was 30 years ago – you have to get screened for heart disease.”
You can donate to Lowrey’s fundraising campaign for the American Heart Association right now by clicking here.
Copyright 2023 WSMV. All rights reserved.