Giving birth caused me to tear an artery sparking a massive heart attack when I was just 30 – The Sun
EXHAUSTED but elated, Jo Ward felt a rush of love as she lay surrounded by her family in her hospital bed.
She had just given birth to her second son Tyler – a brother for Callum – and was watching husband Darren coo over their newest addition.
But within four days, their lives were flipped upside down when the mum-of-two, from Sheffield, suffered a massive heart attack – aged just 30.
Jo needed emergency heart bypass surgery to save her life, but the trauma had badly weakened the organ and unable to pump blood around the body properly.
She was diagnosed with heart failure – an incurable condition that most commonly affects those over the age of 65.
I couldn't pick up anything heavier than a cup of tea
It left her struggling to do everyday tasks, but worst of all, she struggled to even pick up baby Tyler.
"Darren used to lie him on my legs so I could sit and talk to him and just have some physical contact," she told The Sun.
"I couldn't pick up anything heavier than a cup of tea."
Jo, now 45, says that a few days after giving birth in 2005 she started getting pains between her shoulder blades, down her arm and in her jaw.
She said: "I thought I'd pulled my back or something.
"It started off as a niggly pain that just got gradually worse over two or three hours."
Jo rung her GP, who was coming out for a home visit later that day, and he told her it was just a back spasm.
He prescribed her some painkillers but by the following morning she was still in agony and her driving instructor husband called an ambulance.
She said: "Considering I'd just been through childbirth, I said this was worse and I wasn't exaggerating. I was just sobbing."
Jo was taken to Chesterfield hospital in Derbyshire where tests revealed she'd had a heart attack.
They said that I had spontaneous coronary artery dissection, likely brought on by childbirth
She said: "They said that I had spontaneous coronary artery dissection, likely brought on by childbirth."
Medics said they were unable to treat her and she was sent to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield for an emergency heart bypass.
Jo said: "I was surprised by the whole thing. I didn't have the typical clutching your chest type of pain that people imagine.
"Mine was entirely between my shoulder blades in my back, going down my arms to my elbows and in my jaw.
"But quite naively, I thought after the bypass I'd be 'fixed'.
"Yet six months after the surgery I was like, 'why does this still hurt?'
"So I went back to see the cardiologist and they told me I had heart failure.
"A massive part of my heart muscle was damaged and not pumping blood around my body as effectively as it should be."
What is heart failure?
Heart failure means that your heart is not pumping blood around your body as effectively as it should.
It doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped working, but that it needs some support to help it work better.
It can’t be cured, but with treatment and lifestyle changes, many people can have a good quality of life.
Heart failure can occur at any age, but is most common in older people.
The main symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath when you are being active or at rest
- Swollen feet, ankles, stomach and around the lower back area
- Feeling unusually tired or weak
Symptoms occur because your heart is not able to pump blood around the body efficiently. This can lead to a build-up of fluid that backs up into the lungs, which causes breathlessness. Also because the heart is not pumping properly it can cause fluid retention, leading to swelling in your legs, ankles, feet or in the small of your back or abdomen.
You may also feel extremely tired because your heart is not able to deliver enough blood and oxygen to the muscles in your body.
You should see your GP if you begin to experience any of these symptoms.
Source: British Heart Foundation
A combination of medication and a special pacemaker, known as CRT-D, has restored some of her quality of life, helping her to avoid a heart transplant.
However, in September, she was admitted to hospital again for open heart surgery to remove two blood clots from the bottom of her left ventricle.
"After my CRT-D pacemaker was fitted, I noticed slowly but surely that I was able to do much more.
"My energy levels came up. I still get breathless but not to the extent that I did before. I am not as tired now.
"I am a lot more limited – I was never going to run a marathon but I used to go to the gym and I can't do that now.
"I struggle walking sometimes and I get out breath – things that people take for granted."
She said: “Heart failure really changed things for me. I went from full time work to no work.
Jo said her eldest son Callum, now 23, had a very different upbringing to his brother Tyler, 14.
"I couldn’t go swimming with Tyler or teach him how to ride a bike.
Heart failure really changed things for me
"We sat at home and read and did jigsaw books.
"Both my sons are very protective of me though.
“I've never hidden anything from them. They love me for who I am.
"When I had my pacemaker changed recently, I was in and out of hospital in a day and my sons knew why. But to them, I’m not someone with heart failure – I'm just mum.”
Jo added that there is a misconception that heart failure is a condition that only affects older people.
She said: "The struggle is there is a misconception that you've had a heart attack so we’ll treat you like an old man who smokes 60 fags and eats a fry up every day.
"But I wasn't unhealthy when this happened to me.
"I'd just given birth. We're not in the 1500s.
"It does get swept aside a lot because it's not your normal condition."
In fact, new research out today revealed that hospital admissions for heart failure has risen by a third in the past five years.
Recorded heart failure admissions have risen from 65,025 in 2013/14 to 86,474 in 2018/19.
Around 920,000 Brits live with heart failure and the condition places a greater burden on the NHS than the four most common cancers combined, the British Heart Foundation said.
Growing numbers of heart attack survivors, an ageing and growing population and Brits living with high blood pressure and diabetes are to blame.
What is spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)?
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a rare heart condition that occurs suddenly with no apparent warning.
It is most common in women under the age of 50. The condition can’t currently be predicted or prevented.
Your coronary arteries are made up of three layers – SCAD happens when one or more of the inner layers of a coronary artery tears away from the outer layer.
Blood is able to flow into the space between the layers and a blood clot forms, reducing the flow of blood through the artery.
This can lead to a heart attack, as the blood supply to your heart has been blocked. Or a cardiac arrest, when the heart stops pumping blood around your body.
Those with SCAD are generally healthy. They often don’t smoke or have diabetes and aren’t usually overweight or obese.
These are often the risk factors which can increase your chance of having a heart attack.
This means that SCAD is often misdiagnosed or there is a delay in diagnosis.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There is no cure for heart failure, but with access to the right services and support, people can go on to have a good quality of life for many years.
“We need to find new and improved ways of delivering this care, including in communities rather than hospitals.
“Doing so will improve thousands of lives and relieve the unsustainable pressure that heart failure is putting on our health service.”
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