Better Health and Wellness: Preeclampsia survivor has stroke, now living with new heart

Better Health & Wellness

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder developed during pregnancy or shortly after birth. The disorder is a leading cause of maternal mortality and premature birth.

One in 12 pregnancies is affected by preeclampsia, and having it doubles your risk of stroke later in life. Wichita single mother Danecia Williams is alive after experiencing both.

“When I was pregnant, about three months in, I had a lot of swelling, and I really didn’t know what to expect, because I was a first time mother,” Williams said.

Symptoms of preeclampsia are consistent with normal pregnancy symptoms, making them easy to ignore. However, a lab test at the doctor’s office found Williams was spilling protein in her urine, a key sign of preeclampsia.

“I’ve heard a lot of women have it, but I really didn’t know the effects that it could have on your body, and how the high blood pressure can affect all the different organs in your body,” she said.

Williams’ son Isaiah was born by cesarean section because both his and his mother’s heart rates were tanking, something common with preeclampsia.

Danecia Williams and family, courtesy of the American Heart Association

Following Isaiah’s birth, at age 23, Williams was diagnosed with heart failure and put on a defibrillator. In addition, she received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) which helps a weak heart pump blood.

In a reverse of typical roles, young Isaiah became an advocate for his mom. He had to learn that if Williams passed out or couldn’t breathe, he needed to tell paramedics that she had an LVAD and not to shock her back to consciousness.

The LVAD helped keep Williams alive. But as mentioned, having preeclampsia doubles your risk of stroke later in life. Williams had a stroke the day after Christmas 2015. Fortunately, her brother was able to spot what was going on, and her family called 911.

Williams recalls getting in the ambulance and answering the paramedic’s questions, but what she thought was coming out of her mouth did not match what she was actually saying.

“I could hear everything that was going on. And I thought that my speech was right. But they kept asking me, ‘What’s your name? What’s your name?’ And in my head, I was saying Nisha Williams, but I just was saying Williams Williams, nothing else was coming out,” Williams said.

She experienced a second stroke while in the emergency room.

By the time Williams reached the hospital, her speech was gone. So were some parts of her memory. She could say her son’s name but not his birthday.

Following the stroke, her cardiologist put her on the heart transplant list. She waited approximately two years.

“Now, I carry Riley with me,” Williams said.

Riley, a 17 year old, was the heart donor. The heart beats strong for the one Williams loves most – her son.

“I’m all he has. He is so strong,” Williams said.

Williams watches her sodium intake, exercises and listens to her body.

She serves as an advocate for the American Heart Association and shares her story with other women.

By the numbers (American Heart Association):

  • 1 in 5 women will have a stroke
  • About 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year
  • Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in women
  • Among women, Black women have the highest prevalence of stroke

Stroke risk INCREASES in women who:Stroke risk DECREASES with:
Are pregnant – pregnant women are three times
more likely to have a stroke as non-pregnant
women of the same age.
Talk to their health care professional to determine the safest medication if they’re pregnant with high blood pressure.
Have preeclampsia – this dangerous condition
of high blood pressure during pregnancy
doubles stroke risk later in life.
Discuss with their health team use of low-dose aspirin guidelines.
Take birth control pills – these can double the
risk of stroke, especially in women with high
blood pressure.
Know your blood pressure before taking birth control pills and monitor it every six months while taking it.
Use hormone replacement therapy – it doesn’t
lower stroke risk if postmenopausal, as once
Don’t use hormone replacement therapy to prevent stroke if postmenopausal.
Have migraines with aura and smoke – strokes
are more common in women who have
migraines with aura and smoke, compared with
other women.
Quit smoking. That includes nicotine use, vaping and e-cigarettes.
Have atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib – a
quivering or irregular heartbeat can increase
stroke risks.
Get screened for atrial fibrillation/AFib if you’re over the age of 75 (that’s when it becomes more common for women.)
Courtesy of the American Heart Association – Kansas

Register for the 2021 Wichita Heart Walk

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