WEDNESDAY DEC. 7, 2022 (American Heart Association News – Marisa MacDonnell walked up her fourth-floor apartment and realized that this was her second pregnancy.
She felt winded. She had to take deeper breathes. Sam, her 2-year-old son, was heavier than his actual weight when she carried him. Even the activities she loved – walking and running – seemed more laborious.
She attributed it to her full-time job and having a toddler. She didn’t even consider the possibility that it might have been her heart.
MacDonnell was born without a properly functioning aortic valve. She was supposed to have three flaps, known as cusps. MacDonnell also suffered from a narrowed aorta which decreases blood flow. These conditions had been her reality since she was born. Her condition was always considered stable to moderate by doctors, with no restrictions. She was an avid figure skater throughout high school.
There was one red flag. In 2014, MacDonnell had her annual checkup. Her cardiologist found minor changes. MacDonnell was 28 when she told MacDonnell that she would probably need a replacement valve, but not until her 50s and 60s.
MacDonnell, a Montclair resident, was able to become pregnant in 2018. Sam was born naturally without complications. Brian Giardina, her husband, gave permission for her to have a second baby in 2020.
A 20-week ultrasound of MacDonnell’s baby’s heart was performed in November. MacDonnell went to her regular cardiologist appointment the following month.
The next night, her phone rang.
A nurse stated, “The doctor requires you to return in as soon as possible.”
MacDonnell and Giardina received a call from the cardiologist stating that her condition had advanced from moderate to severe. The doctor advised her to have a replacement valve immediately. However, the doctors could not perform the procedure while she was still pregnant.
According to the cardiologist, the change was triggered by the pregnancy. The increased blood volume in her system caused it. It was not her first pregnancy so there was no reason for it to happen again.
She visited a variety of doctors and received different recommendations. They decided to induce labor at 36 week.
On Valentine’s Day 2021, MacDonnell – 31 weeks pregnant – was coloring with Sam. Bacon was baking waffles in the oven while Giardina was making waffles.
Giardina told MacDonnell, “I feel really strange.” “I feel a strange sensation in my arms, hands and chest.
He sent the symptoms to the cardiologist.
She texted back, “Go to the hospital!”
COVID-19 protocols prevented Giardina from going into the hospital. Sam and he found a bakery where they could wait. They were informed that MacDonnell would be kept overnight for testing so they returned home.
MacDonnell’s Electrocardiogram looked normal. However, a blood test revealed that MacDonnell had a high amount of troponin. This is often a sign that there has been a heart attack.
Further testing revealed that she had suffered from spontaneous coronary artery disection, also known as SCAD. The name refers to a sudden artery tear that occurs without warning. SCAD is most commonly seen in women who are pregnant. However, it can also be caused by SCAD during pregnancy.
Doctors believed the tear would heal itself. MacDonnell had to remain put.
MacDonnell said, “There was no chance they were letting us go home until we had our baby.”
Giardina and MacDonnell were allowed to visit. MacDonnell’s mother is a Boston-based nurse. Sam, though too young to have COVID-19 vaccinated, was not allowed in.
Giardina tested positive to COVID-19 on March 20, 2021. He was not allowed to be in the hospital during the scheduled delivery.
Doctors decided MacDonnell would need to have a cesarean section. She would also need to be fully anesthetized in the event that her valve needs to be replaced.
Giardina was texted almost immediately by one of the doctors in the room, who was always available in case of emergency.
Everything went great. It’s a girl! He wrote. “And here she is right after we pulled the baby out.”
He had recorded the birth on his cell phone.
Giardina said, “I was devastated that it was missed, but ecstatic it saw it.”
MacDonnell met Cecilia or Cece 12 hours after she was born. Cece beat her mother even by a day.
Tests showed her normal heartbeat. Sam’s, too.
MacDonnell had open-heart surgery in November 2021. MacDonnell had her diseased aortic and pulmonary valves replaced by doctors. Then, a donor pulmonary was implanted.
Upon closer inspection of her faulty valve, doctors discovered that her aorta wasn’t missing one flap – it was missing two. So, her aorta had one flap instead the usual three.
MacDonnell stated, “They said they should have had it changed a long while ago.”
MacDonnell is now back running, one year later. MacDonnell has more energy than ever because she now has a functioning heart.
MacDonnell stated, “There is always the possibility that something may need to change or be fixed in future.” MacDonnell said, “But I am optimistic that there will soon be a solution.” Science advances every day.”
American Heart Association News is a news source that covers brain and heart health. This story does not necessarily reflect the official position and views of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned by or held in perpetuity by the American Heart Association, Inc. All rights are reserved. Send questions or comments to [email protected]
American Heart Association News, Diane Daniel