Heart issues are among the top reasons women die in childbirth

Heart issues are among the top reasons women die in childbirth
(Source: Provided to WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A woman’s heart works 50 percent harder when she’s pregnant. And for someone with a pre existing heart condition, that can be dangerous.

Now there’s a specific unit at the Cleveland Clinic that specializes in women with heart conditions who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

A small sign hangs over Sallie Luft in her nail salon in Norton. It reminds her of where she’s been and how much she’s overcome in just the past year. It reads, “born with a broken heart, beating the odds one beat at a time.”

The young mom was having a hard time controlling her high blood pressure so she saw a doctor. She was shocked with the doctor’s reaction, “He was amazed that I was alive, that I have a six-year-old, that I can move my legs,” said Luft.

Sallie was diagnosed with coarctation of the aortic valve. The major artery that carries blood to her body was too narrow.

“I was not getting proper blood flow to the lower half of my body,” said Luft.

She was likely born with this and would need surgery to correct it, but: “I went to the cardiologist, a week later I found out I was pregnant,” said Luft.

Doctors said pregnancy was a major complication for both her and her unborn baby.

“They did not think she was going to get the proper blood flow. They didn’t think I’d be able to conceive and carry and they said in my third trimester, I was like a 200-percent mortality rate,” said Luft.

She turned to specialists at the Cleveland Clinic. They’ve now created a special Cardio-Obstetrics Clinic devoted solely to women with heart issues who are pregnant or want to become pregnant.

“The number one cause of maternal mortality, for your pregnancy, is related to the heart,” said Dr. David Majdalany.

Heart issues affect at least 5 percent of pregnancies.

“In our clinic, you see both the heart specialist and the high-risk pregnancy specialist so we can discuss the risk from both of our perspectives so the patient is well informed,” said Dr. Majdalany.

“They were having, I believe it was, bi-weekly meetings, specifically about me, with all of the top doctors and they were all brainstorming to figure out the possible solutions,” said Luft.

She prayed everything would be OK because after all, she had carried and delivered her son without knowing any of this.

“I was kind of caught up in the whirlwind of all the doctor appointments. It was a lot going on constantly so I kind of didn’t have time to think about it,” she said.

There were weekly check-ups, anatomy scans, blood flow monitoring, but at 37 weeks, Luft delivered Lilli, a healthy baby girl.

Six months later, she had her heart surgery.

“I’m very thankful they found out what was wrong and they were able to fix it.”

Luft said everyday is a gift. Her heart has given her a whole new perspective on life.

“There is hope. Things do happen and miracles do happen. I feel very blessed.”

Despite a small heart murmur as a baby, the only symptom Luft had was high blood pressure. It started when she was pregnant with her first child. Doctors attributed that to the pregnancy. Her advice to other women is to listen to your body, take care of yourself, for you and for your children.

Cleveland 19 News and Marc’s have teamed up together to help Raise Awareness for Heart Health. Visit our Go Red Page to learn more about your Heart Health. #GoRedCLE

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