University Hospitals guides patient with rare condition on journey to new heart
-- They say your heart grows with love when you have a child, but Britney Bagwell’s heart literally expanded after giving birth, putting her life at risk.
In 2006 after the birth of her first son, the 20-year-old began feeling ill. One day, she fainted at her house and was taken to the hospital. Doctors discovered her heart muscle had weakened due to her pregnancy. Bagwell was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), a type of heart failure which occurs during pregnancy or shortly after delivery. The condition weakens the heart muscle and causes it to become enlarged. Symptoms include fatigue, severe shortness of breath, swollen legs and chest pain. PPCM is often overlooked as it is very rare (about 1,000 cases in the U.S. annually) and the symptoms mimic the aches and pains of pregnancy.
Mild and moderate cases of PPCM can often be treated with medications. However, in more severe cases when the heart is not strong enough to pump oxygen-rich blood to vital organs, a mechanical heart pump (left ventricular assist device; LVAD) and/or transplant is needed.
A few years later, Bagwell gave birth to her second child. As her condition worsened, she decided to transfer her care to University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. Physicians at UH implanted an LVAD as a short-term solution and a bridge to transplant.
“Given Britney’s age, the team at UH wanted to offer her the best chance at a long, healthy life where she could see her children grow up,” said Michael Zacharias, DO, Advanced Heart Failure Cardiologist at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.
Unfortunately, Bagwell was a smoker. Before being added to the transplant waiting list, someone must be smoke-free for a minimum of 6 months. Doctors at UH encouraged Bagwell to quit and gave her a year to do so.
“They gave me motivation. The doctors believed in me. They gave me a chance and fought for me,” said Bagwell.
Bagwell did quit smoking and was added to the transplant waiting list. She got the call in March of 2019.
The months following her transplant were full of ups and downs, but Bagwell persevered. She receives follow-up care with Dr. Zacharias at UH Cleveland Medical Center.
“Britney is the epitome of perseverance. She knew what was needed of her, worked hard and ultimately was rewarded with a second chance at life. It’s extremely rewarding as a physician to see patients get to the point where she is. She is a mother, patient and role model to all of us,” said Dr. Zacharias.
Bagwell is grateful for the support she received from all of her caregivers at UH. She cherishes every moment with her family and at just 33 years old, she looks forward to a long, healthy life.
“I can’t say enough about all of my doctors at UH,” said Bagwell. “I’m just happy to be here with my kids.”