Guest Post: A new mother’s heart failure story

This guest post was written by Fatima Mathews, a heart failure survivor living in Niagara Falls, NY.

Fatima and her daughter Londyn

The birth of my 2nd child was supposed to be a joyous time in our lives. During my 3rd trimester, I noticed I gained a lot of weight, and my ankles were also really swollen. I followed all my doctor’s orders and continued going to all my regular appointments. My doctor would tell me weight gain is normal and she did put me on bed rest until I gave birth. I knew in the back of my mind something was not right, but who am I to question my doctor? She is the one who went to school and spent many years delivering babies and protecting pregnant women. I pushed my concerns to the back of my head. I began to tell myself, “You’re 30 years old and having a baby.”  I questioned the feelings I was having. Eventually, I pressured myself to believe everything will be just fine.

I gave birth to the most perfect baby girl on February 2, 2009. And just like I told myself everything was fine. Thank God! until it wasn’t.

In mid-April I was scared about returning to work and leaving my little one home with my family, but when that day came I could not get out of the bed. I could not breathe. I managed to get to the edge of my bed and started to pull myself together. My body and my head were not in the same accord. My head was saying, “Get up,” but my body was saying, “You’re not going anywhere.” An hour or so later I found myself parking my car at the office and starting to walk into the building. My breath was getting shorter and shorter. Sweat was pouring from my face. I thought this must be all a part of postpartum depression. So, I pressed on. After not being able to catch my breath and ending up with a wet blouse, I decided to drive myself to my local hospital. Alone and afraid as the doctors poked and tugged at me, I began to cry, but I also remained stubborn, mainly because I believed all these issues were in my head. No one had ever told me I was depressed, but I remember television shows talking about postpartum depression. As I lay in that bed, I remembered my mother telling me I was too old to be having another baby. I remember Good Morning America doing stories on mothers who proclaimed proudly they had postpartum depression, but they triumph through. So, I said, “I can do that, too.”

After a long day in the hospital and many, many tests the doctor came in to tell me I had experienced a heart failure. And my heart is weak due to childbirth. I was crushed. I did not know what to do or think. I knew that could not be true. After all, I am only 30 years old. I spent several days in the hospital on a number of medications that I had never even heard of.

Six months later, after appointment after appointment with a heart specialist and my primary care provider, it was determined that I should get a defibrillator. I was assured this would be an easy procedure. And it was. I was only in the hospital for 1 day.

Life had pretty much returned to normal, besides the constant appointments and water pills I hated so much. My child was growing and thriving. And I had even started to get used to my heart condition. I knew what I could do and what I should not do. I knew when I needed to rest, and I planned out my medications so I could live a regular lifestyle.

After 10 years with my defibrillator, I needed to get my battery changed. Again, this is supposed to be a pretty easy procedure. Well, on September 24, 2019 I died on the operating table for 8 mins. During this time, my family had to make some decisions. Thank God they made the best decision to save my life.

I woke up weeks later in the in Rochester, NY. I had a LVAD (left ventricular assist device) placed inside my body to help my heart pump. I had to learn to walk and talk again. I had to have therapy weekly. I had to learn to take care of my wounds. My memory was affected and I was really weak. I could not do anything without help from the nurses and the staff at the hospital. I was like a newborn baby, except I was 30 years old. My mother was my caregiver. My family never left my side.

I believe God gave me a second chance at life so I can tell my story. There are so many things that could have been done differently but I always fault myself for not getting a second opinion when I noticed I was not feeling well. I just took my doctor’s word, and I knew something was wrong.  Unfortunately, being a Black woman, I am looked at differently. Sometimes overlooked. We (Black) women are questioned more when we are in pain, or we’re told to be strong. The health system was built on the testing of white men. Black women are barely represented. So many doctors don’t know or understand the body of the Black woman. It is a proven fact that Black women and white women’s bodies and treatment are different. Just the same as women and men. Black women are at a higher risk for heart disease, and it’s one of the leading causes of maternal mortality for us.

If you don’t take anything else from my story, please go to the doctors regularly and if you don’t feel you are getting the answers you are searching for, please get a second option.

As of 2022, Londyn is now 13 years old and I am living a full and productive life. I work a part time job with Geico. I just purchased my first home here in Niagara Falls, NY. God has truly blessed me and my family with a beautiful life. This my testimony.