Go Red for Women is the American Heart Association's national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. Why do we Go Red? This foundation really hits close to home as we witnessed one of our fellow J. Becher family members undergo the diagnosis of heart disease, during a time that is supposed to be filled with happiness and joy.
Laura Lee is strong, she's' a fighter and an inspiration to many. She is a wife, a mother, and a survivor - Her story is below.
(Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association - featuring Laura Lee)
I was unexpectedly diagnosed with heart failure on the day my daughter was born (Sept 14, 2017) and had a heart transplant (Aug 1, 2018) before her first birthday.
Prior to being pregnant, I was very active - I was a competitive figure skater growing up, I played tennis in high school and college, and did Crossfit as an adult. When I got pregnant with my first child, I had no issues my first and second trimester. About a month before my due date into my third trimester, I started having odd symptoms that become very severe very quickly causing alarm and concern. My symptoms included: shortness of breath, fatigue, increased heart rate, vomiting, chest pain, swelling, coughing, inability to lie flat. I saw 4 Doctors the last 2 weeks before my daughter was born because I knew in my gut that something was wrong but I wasn't getting the answers I was looking for. Everyone contributed my symptoms to pregnancy. One Doctor said I had anxiety from the newness of the experience.
My water broke one week before my due date, and 4 hours later I was rushed into an emergency c-section because the baby's heart rate was dropping. The c-section went smoothly with no issues, however afterward when they put her on my chest for skin to skin contact, I couldn't breathe. I asked the nurse to take her off telling her I couldn't breathe. Instead, the nurse readjusted her making it even more difficult for me to catch my breath. I remember my husband, Ryan, grabbing our daughter and saying to the nurse, "Help her! Something is wrong." What I remember next is waking up in the middle of the night in a different room (ICU) with a breathing mask on. My husband was sitting next to me. I didn't know what happened or where our daughter was. The Doctor came in and said that I had heart failure. I didn't know what that meant or what that would lead to in the coming months but that was the cause of all the symptoms I had recently experienced. I was in the hospital one week following the birth of our daughter and left wearing a life vest that I wore underneath my clothing 24/7 in case I went into cardiac arrest.
I was medically diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy which is heart failure caused by pregnancy, however after 2 months post-birth they re-diagnosed me with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (an enlargement of the left ventricle) stating that I had a pre-existing heart condition that was induced by pregnancy, essentially saving my life. The severity of my condition post-birth was extreme. I still had shortness of breath, fatigue, and the inability to lift my daughter or anything over 10lbs. I extended my maternity leave and my mom moved in with us to help me care for our daughter because I was unable to do so alone due to my condition. I was on daily medication and had an ICD (replacing the life vest I wore) put in 6 months following my initial diagnosis. Two months later (now month 8) they performed a procedure to see how my heart was doing. It was then that they identified that my right ventricle was now failing; making my diagnosis incurable and requiring a heart transplant within the coming months. My life was now at stake, and I knew that I would need a transplant before the end of the year (2018).
I had to go through a 2-week heart transplant evaluation process where they do an entire body assessment to identify the right organ match and gauge the success rate of the procedure. Immediately following the evaluation, I had an IV medicine line put into my arm so I could receive liquid medication 24/7 because the oral medication was no longer effective. During this procedural process, my body started to break down and did not respond well to the medication. I was in ICU for a week struggling to turn things around when the Doctors said it's now time. I was airlifted to Arizona in order to receive a heart sooner due to a greater population of surrounding states and less competing hospitals that perform heart transplants. My husband came with me. I had one day before I left to say goodbye to our kids (daughter and stepson) and family. My Doctors estimated I would be in Arizona for a minimum of 4 months with the transplant and recovery timing.
When I arrived in Arizona I had to go through the heart transplant evaluation process again to be listed for a heart in that region. It took 3 days to complete, ending on a Friday but I could not be listed until the following Monday. Over that weekend my condition quickly declined, and I had to have an unexpected procedure on Monday to help me keep going. It was following that procedure that they informed me I was officially listed for a heart transplant. At 4:00 am Tuesday morning, the nurse came in and said breakfast would be my last meal - they found a match. I was transplanted on Wednesday and had an amazingly smooth recovery. I (proudly) was the fastest person to leave the hospital on day 5 post-transplant. (The average time is 2 weeks.) I was supposed to stay in Arizona for 3 months following my transplant to work on my recovery with medication, sterilization, and cardiac rehab but I progressed so well that I was able to leave 6 weeks post-surgery and finish my 3-month recovery in MN. I flew home from Arizona 2 days before our daughter's first birthday; adjusting the 4-month estimate of being in Arizona to a total of 8 weeks.
It's been a year and a half since my transplant. I've had some bumps in the road with my recovery, such as recent rejection, however, it has been short term and has not hindered my ability or drive to live life to it's fullest. I'm on daily anti-rejection meds, which I will take for the remainder of my life, so my body does not detect my new heart as a foreign object and try to reject it. I have biopsies and draw blood regularly to test my rejection level. In situations where there has been rejection (it's common for 60% of people to have rejection during the course of recovery), they have put me on extra medication to work through it. It's a temporary adjustment for being able to live a normal life again with no physical restrictions. I feel so blessed to have been given the gift of life and to feel exactly how I felt before I was first diagnosed.
Video Summary: Laura Lee Story
In an effort to help spread awareness, J. Becher will be sponsoring Twin Cities Go Red events in the coming months - those events are listed below for reference.
If you would like to volunteer, sponsor or support the Go Red Foundation, please visit https://www.heart.org/