Heart to Heart

A new mom gives back after her life-threatening heart condition

A new mom gives back after her life-threatening heart condition

Most new moms would describe childbirth and the first weeks of a new baby’s life as a whirlwind. That was the case for Jessica Sorrels, but not in a good way.

After a long and difficult birth with her first son, Jack, she nearly lost her life.

Sorrels became pregnant in August 2009 at age 27. She experienced a fairly normal pregnancy, but at 37 weeks her water broke. Her very long labor wasn’t progressing, so her obstetrician decided Sorrels needed a cesarean section. That’s when things took a turn. Her heart rate skyrocketed and she had to be put under general anesthesia for the procedure. During recovery she developed a fever and spent the next week in the hospital for treatment of what was thought to be an infection. On her first night home from the hospital, still not feeling well and learning to care for her baby at home, she began feeling really sick.

“I don’t remember much of that first night at home, just sleeping a lot,” Sorrels said. “I hadn’t lost any weight since the birth and I didn’t look well. But who is going to tell a new mom she doesn’t look good?”

Her son’s pediatrician told her. Just two days home from the hospital, Sorrels took Jack to his 1-week well check, and the pediatrician noticed she was short of breath, wasn’t able to put sentences together very clearly and generally did not look well. The pediatrician had Sorrels call her obstetrician from the office, who sent her directly to the emergency room.

“She told me to go straight there, to not even bring the baby home,” Sorrels said.

After many hours and many tests, Sorrels was diagnosed with postpartum pre-eclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in 3 to 5 percent of pregnant women in the U.S., but it usually resolves after the baby is born. When it happens after birth, it requires prompt treatment because it can lead to seizures and death.

“In pre-eclampsia, the blood vessels and organs do not work like they should,” said Janet Smith, M.D., a cardiologist who specializes in women’s heart issues. “The kidneys do not clear extra fluid well and the heart becomes stiff and does not relax well, resulting in further worsening of fluid retention. As a reslt, the lungs and other tissues fill up with fluid. The patient becomes short of breath, weak and swollen.”

Sorrels was given medications to help relieve her body of the fluid it normally should have been flushing out after birth.

“I lost more than 33 pounds in 18 hours,” she said. After fluid around her lungs and heart cleared, she was nearly back to normal and doctors determined she would fully recover.

Since then, Sorrels and her husband have welcomed their second child, Court, after a normal pregnancy and c-section delivery under the guidance of an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Her experiences as a young mom with a heart condition have prompted Sorrels to become a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Today she shares her story with other women so they know the importance of taking care of their heart.

“Because of what I’ve been through, I’m three times more likely to have a heart attack and two times more likely to have a stroke,” she said. “I want others to know the heart is a muscle and needs to be taken care of like any other muscle — through a healthy lifestyle.”

Sorrels also wants to spread the message that women should listen to their bodies.

“As a new mom, you don’t know what to expect — you don’t know what’s normal and not normal,” she said. “I was quite swollen at the end of the pregnancy, but I was a busy attorney and chalked it up to that. And after the delivery, I was seeing spots. The cardiologist said that’s never right. If you see spots, get medical attention.”

“A woman who has had pre-eclampsia has an increased risk of further episodes of pre-eclampsia as well as atherosclerotic heart disease in the future,” Dr. Smith said. “She should take it as a wake-up call to make lifestyle changes that can offset her increased risk. This includes not smoking; eating a low-fat, sensible diet; and getting plenty of exercise. It is the perfect time for a young woman to not only make healthy choices for herself, but teach her child to make healthy choices as well,” Dr. Smith said


Have you been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension or gestational diabetes within the past 10 years? If so, it’s more important than ever to start taking care of your heart today. The first 25 women to call the Norton Women’s Heart & Vascular Center to schedule a heart risk assessment will receive the screening for free! Take care of your heart and call (502) 629-1234 for an appointment today.


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