Every year hundreds of families across the US gather together to keep a promise to themselves, their loved ones, and all women who are or will become pregnant. They promise to raise awareness and much-needed funding for research into one of the leading known causes of maternal mortality, prematurity, and infant loss – preeclampsia. The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia is the biggest fundraising event for the Preeclampsia Foundation during the year. This year, the walks are being held at locations throughout the US in May and June.
This year, I am coordinating the Promise Walk in Orange County, California on May 18, 2013. Like all other Promise Walk coordinators, I am doing this on a volunteer basis. All of the walk coordinators have a personal connection to preeclampsia – some have had near-death experiences and some have lost babies or grown daughters to the disease. The walks provide each of us with a way to give back and replace some of what we have lost. The walks provide companionship, understanding, and a way to feel less alone in the face of a disease that can turn the joy of pregnancy and childbirth into an unfathomable pain.
Preeclampsia can happen to anyone. It happened to Dr. Hill and to me. We are both survivors of a relatively rare variant of preeclampsia called HELLP syndrome. The acronym HELLP stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets – the conditions that define the disease. Taken together, the conditions indicate a breakdown in the circulatory system and in liver and kidney function. Statistically, 5-8% of all pregnant women will develop some form of preeclampsia during her pregnancy. Although this may not sound like a lot, it translates into hundreds of thousands of women every year.
Dr. Hill shared her own story of preeclampsia following the recent airing of the Downton Abbey episode that featured a character’s death from eclampsia. My own story shows just how important awareness of the signs and symptoms of this disease can be. Even though I had developed the tell-tale headache and was seeing spots, I did not know that these symptoms indicated out-of-control blood pressure. I had no idea I was on the verge of eclampsia. I was alone in my kitchen when the first seizure struck. I couldn’t call for help. All I could do was stay where I was and hold on until someone came home. I knew my husband would come. I knew my friend Anna was on her way. The daycare would call someone when I didn’t show up to pick up my older son. I lay on the floor, holding on, for at least three hours.
Somehow my son and I both survived this ordeal. After Anna arrived and called 911, I was taken to the nearest hospital. My son was delivered soon after. He wasn’t breathing. His respiratory effort is listed as “absent” on the medical records. The doctors and nurses were able to revive him, but it was a very, very close call. I was unaware of this at the time because I myself was unconscious and on life support. I missed his birth. I missed the first full day of his life. He was transferred to another hospital to get the care he needed. Our separation stretched through the first full week of his life. I wouldn’t hold him until I myself was out of the hospital – EIGHT days after his birth.
This is why I walk. I walk because I still can. I walk because my sons can walk beside me and I am eternally grateful for that. I walk because so many other women and children cannot. I’ve made the promise to spread awareness so that no other mother will go through eclampsia by herself.
If you or someone you know has experienced preeclampsia, I encourage you to attend the closest walk. If you are pregnant or thinking about pregnancy, I encourage you to come on out and learn from the women who have been there. Come on out and walk with us! We’d love to have your support! And, if you’d be interested in lending support, donating, sponsoring a walk, or volunteering please contact me or go to Promisewalk.org to find your local walk. If you’re anywhere near Irvine, CA – I’d love to see you out at my walk!