The last thing I could have ever expected after having my third child was heart disease. But there I was, at 35, hearing a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension, which meant I had high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries in my lungs. Also known as PH, the condition can have no known cause, can be genetic or can be caused by drugs or toxins. It can also occur because of an underlying disease or health issue.
Breathing symptoms lead to pulmonary hypertension diagnosis
For me, it began after my third son, Gaige, was born. I would get out of breath just walking up four steps. I had always been a regular exerciser and was an avid road biker, so I knew my symptoms weren’t the result of being out of shape. And I knew something was wrong.
Six months of testing pointed to pulmonary hypertension, but my cardiologist at the time still wasn’t convinced it was the right diagnosis. I was referred to Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, who performed a catheterization that confirmed the PH diagnosis in 2008. I was put on oral medications for my pulmonary hypertension treatment, including warfarin (also known as Coumadin® or Jantoven®), and noticed a difference within a few months. I was able to do simple things, like carry my year-old son up the stairs. Recently, Dr. McLaughlin changed my medication and I still feel great.
I truly believe Dr. McLaughlin saved my life. In fact, for a while my health insurance didn’t cover my treatment at U-M, which meant I was paying out of pocket. But I wasn’t about to go anywhere else, even if it meant seeing someone closer to home. Traveling from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor for regular appointments with Dr. McLaughlin was worth it to me.
Past symptoms clues to PH diagnosis?
People ask if I had symptoms before they became severe. Looking back, I realize that my lungs were always the first to give out after a 30-mile group bike ride, so I may have had subtle signs of PH long ago. But today, thanks to the University of Michigan, I can backpack in the summer with my three boys and husband — it might take me a bit longer to get there, but I can still do it. I can go for bike rides and swim — I just don’t push as hard as I once did. For me, that’s a small price to pay for feeling healthy and happy.
Take the next steps:
- Read more stories about patients living with pulmonary hypertension.
- Drug combo reduces risk for pulmonary hypertension hospitalizations.
- Cross country walker visits Ann Arbor on trek for Pulmonary Hypertension Association.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.