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I had a heart attack days after giving birth. Doctors dismissed my symptoms, but advocating for my health saved my life.

Kelly Burch   

I had a heart attack days after giving birth. Doctors dismissed my symptoms, but advocating for my health saved my life.
  • Alexis Hall, 29, had her daughter Jaicei on April 9.
  • On April 18 she had a massive heart attack.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alexis Hall and her husband, Jariel Hall. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I waited a long time to have my second baby. My son, Jaylen, is 11. My husband Jariel and I were young when we had him, and we wanted to get established and do things right the second time. So, we bought a house and grew up a bit. Finally, at 29, I felt ready to grow our family.

My pregnancy with our daughter, Jaicei, was easy. I needed a C-section when she was born on April 9, but a few days later we were leaving the hospital as a family. I was excited to introduce the baby to Jaylen and my stepdaughter Jamiracle, who is 14.

The first few days at home were great. But after about a week, I noticed swelling in my hands and feet. I had shortness of breath. My mama always raised me to go to the hospital whenever anything was wrong. So, I left the baby with her, and Jariel and I went back to the maternity ward where I had just delivered.

When I was ready for discharge, I started feeling really sick

There, doctors realized that I had fluid in my lungs. They explained that can happen after childbirth and gave me medications to help. They kept me in the hospital overnight, but by the next day they said I was stable enough to go home.

That's when I started feeling really sick. I told Jariel it felt like my chest was on fire. I had a pain on the left side of my chest that wrapped around my back. Doctors did tests, but when they all came back normal, the doctors tried to tell me it was just gas.

Suddenly, I started foaming at the mouth and lost consciousness. My grandmother, who was with us and works in a hospital, realized my heart had stopped. She called a code and started administering CPR, which doctors continued for 45 minutes until they got a faint pulse.

I don't remember any of it, but I know it was terrifying for Jariel, whose father and stepmother died from heart attacks. Seeing me have one in front of his eyes brought up a lot of old wounds.

I was transferred to another hospital and put on life support

Doctors transferred me to another hospital — the one my grandmother works at — because my heart attack was so serious. At the new hospital, they said it was massive. Soon after that, I coded again, and doctors hooked me up to life support that took over for my heart and lungs.

By that point, doctors realized I had a heart attack caused by a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. This happens when an artery bursts, and it's most common in pregnant and postpartum women. Research shows it's an understudied cause of maternal deaths.

Looking back, I am so proud of how I advocated for myself before the heart attack. If I had gone home when the doctors wanted to discharge me, I might not be here. Instead, I insisted on staying in the hospital. Because of that, doctors were able to give me CPR and later an Impella heart pump that saved my life.

I'm still recovering and I'm happy to be alive

After about three days, I came off life support. I was still in the critical care unit, so I wasn't able to see my baby. I missed her so much, but I knew she was in good hands. My husband and both of our mothers are so supportive. I never had to wonder if the baby was OK without me. I could just concentrate on getting better so I could get back to her.

Ten days later, I was finally discharged and able to see Jaicei. Having a C-section followed by a heart attack is no joke. I still can't drive myself places, and I am doing cardiac rehabilitation a few times a week, but overall, I'm doing really well.

I'm so grateful that I trusted myself to know when something was wrong. Ultimately, that's what let me be here with my baby.

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