Mom Saved from Heart Failure after Childbirth

Christine Budwha Giles (center) and family thank Northwell Health’s cardiology team for saving her life after developing heart failure after childbirth. Ms. Giles spoke at Northwell’s Go Red for Women’s Heart Health event.

MANHASSET, NY – As a second-time mom, Christine Budwha Giles thought she knew what to expect after giving birth to her daughter, Anna, back in November 2014.  But about two months later, Ms. Giles was faced with life-threatening heart failure, a condition that can occur up to six months after childbirth.

A contracts attorney for New York City Transit, Ms. Giles returned to work after maternity leave in February 2015.  Though she was working again, the Queens’s Village mother said she wasn’t feeling well and cited lethargy, fever, congestion and shortness of breath among her symptoms.   “I thought I might have the flu,” she said.  Thinking she might need antibiotics, she saw her family doctor.  At the appointment her face started turning blue from lack of oxygen and the physcian called 911.  She was brought to North Shore University Hospital’s Emergency Department and treated in the intensive care unit.

“It never occurred to me that I was having a heart problem.  I chalked up my symptoms to being tired and taking care of my newborn and active six-year old son,” she said.

In the emergency room, Ms. Giles met Evelina Grayver, MD, director of the Coronary Care Unit at NSUH, Reva Gajer, NP, and a team of cardiac specialists.  “Ms. Giles was treated aggressively – with medication and breathing devices,” Dr. Grayver said.  “We were able to stabilize her and get her heart regulated.”  As a safeguard, Ms. Giles went home with 10-pound external Life Vest defibrillator to protect her from a potential lethal irregular heart beat.  She wore the vest 23 hours a day.  “The vest did its job but it was burdensome, heavy and a constant reminder of what was wrong with me.”

In September, Apoor Patel, MD, director of complex ablations in the Department of Electrophysiology, recommended a relatively new internal heart device that would protect Ms. Giles against cardiac arrest. Known as a subcutaneous implantable defibrillator (S-ICD), the device is implanted under the skin and delivers an electric shock to the heart to treat a dangerously rapid heartbeat. “ Since Ms. Giles will need lifelong cardiac care, the S-ICD is the best treatment option for her because the device avoids the use of electrical leads touching the heart or surrounding veins, which reduces the risk of infection or other complications should the wires need to be removed,” Dr. Patel explained.

The new heart device gave Ms. Giles the freedom and confidence to return to work full-time.  She is back to her busy family routine,  exercising and practicing yoga.  “I am now able to carry my daughter, play with my son, and enjoy spending time with my husband without getting lightheaded.

“I can describe my life in one word – gratitude,” Ms. Giles said.  “I’m so grateful and blessed to be alive.  I’m grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Northwell for saving my life and I am glad to be alive during a time when technology and medical advances can keep me alive.”

Ms. Giles shared her emotional story at Northwell Health’s/American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women’s Heart Health on February 5, an event held at NSUH’s Rust Auditorium.  Approximately 150 people attended the event, which raises awareness about women’s heart health and empowers women to recognize symptoms and to take healthy actions to prevent heart disease.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women,  and one in three women dies from heart disease each year.  “The good news is that 80 to 90 percent of heart disease and stroke events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes,” said Stacey Rosen, MD, vice president of Women’s Health at Northwell’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health.  “We want to give women positive messages that they can often change a bad outcome into a good one.”

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