SoCal women who almost lost lives to pregnancy-related heart failure now warn others

Denise Dador Image
Friday, December 9, 2022
2 women with pregnancy-related heart failure warns others to see signs
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We're learning more about a potentially deadly pregnancy complication - maternal heart failure. It's often written off as common symptoms of those who are expecting, but doctors say this potentially fatal condition is often misdiagnosed.

We're learning more about a potentially deadly pregnancy complication - maternal heart failure. It's often written off as common symptoms of those who are expecting, but doctors say this potentially fatal condition is often misdiagnosed.

This illness brought two local moms together. Lacresha Ball, 31, and Brittany Torres, 39, both thought they would be cuddling their newborns, but instead they were at Loma Linda University Medical Center clinging for their lives.

"I had internal bleeding. My heart was crashing down," Bell said.

Torres said the doctors didn't have much hope that she would survive.

They didn't know it, but both were suffering from a pregnancy-related underdiagnosed, rare form of heart failure.

This was Bell's second baby so she knew something wasn't right. In one week, she had gained 10 pounds.

"I couldn't really breathe. I was losing breath in like 10, 15 steps," she said.

"I've had five other pregnancies, From the very beginning, I struggled to breathe. I had a lot of pain in my stomach," Torres said.

Their doctors at the time chalked up their symptoms to pregnancy.

After a difficult delivery, Bell went home with her baby but was back in the hospital in a matter of days.

"I started seeing black spots and everything. I could barely stay awake even to feed my baby. So I ended up back in the hospital." Bell said.

Eventually, she ended up on life support with cardiogenic shock and multi-organ failure.

Torres' health also rapidly declined after delivery.

"I just almost passed out a few times because I couldn't breathe," she said.

Paramedics raced her to the hospital. When Torres arrived at the hospital, they ran tests and told her that she had peripartum cardiomyopathy.

"Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a type of cardiomyopathy, or a form of a weak heart condition, that usually develops the last month of pregnancy, up to five months after pregnancy," said Dr. Diane Tran with the Loma Linda University International Heart Institute.

While an exact cause is unknown, there are risk factors.

"If they're African American, if they have complications from their pregnancies and they're developing these symptoms. We really should be evaluating and making sure their heart function is working properly," Tran said.

After four months in the hospital, Bell is now able to function with a heart-assist device.

Torres underwent a heart transplant, but Bell may eventually need one.

"I just wish that in a way that this would have been caught a little earlier, and maybe things could have been different," Torres said.

Earlier intervention might have saved their hearts. They hope other women won't be afraid to speak up.

"Though we don't have the medical degree, but we know our bodies. And no one knows our bodies better than we do," Bell said.

Bell and Torres are grateful they can lean on each other. What they've been through gives this holiday season so much more meaning.

"The fact that I'm still here to celebrate with my family, to me, that's gift enough," Torres said.