New mothers experiencing dangerous heart complications after childbirth

HOUSTON – When Kristin Stanley-Motzner gave birth to her son 10 years ago, it was a day of celebration. But her joy quickly turned to fear.

“About 48 hours later, I went into full congestive heart failure. I didn't know what was going on so it was very scary,” she said.

Kristin was suffering from postpartum cardiomyopathy. The pregnancy had weakened her heart.

Dr. Maria Avila, a specialist in advanced heart failure and a transplant cardiologist, explained the causes.

“There are many changes through pregnancy, especially in the cardiovascular system. The amount of blood and volume that we have in our body could double or triple. The rate of the heart also will increase up to 25 percent. So all of these changes end up being a stress to the heart,” Avila said.

Avila said pregnant women need to be aware of the symptoms.

“Many females, when they’re pregnant, they'll think, ‘I'm short of breath because I'm pregnant, I have swelling of my legs, it’s probably the pregnancy.’ But many times, these are the heart failure symptoms we need to be aware of,” Avila said.

While the majority of women recover from postpartum cardiomyopathy, Stanley-Motzner's heart continued to weaken and she needed a transplant.

“On Christmas Day, they walked in and said, 'We have a new heart for you.' The feeling was amazing,” she said.

Listening to the beat of that new heart for the first time brought back the joy she felt when she held her newborn son.

“And I'm blessed and thankful for everything Memorial Hospital has done for me,” Stanley-Motzner said.

The risk of postpartum cardiomyopathy increases every year over the age of 30. It is more common among women who have had multiple pregnancies or a pregnancy with more than one baby. Women with high blood pressure and African-American women are also at higher risk.