With all the side effects that accompany pregnancy, many mothers-to-be tend to blame stereotypical symptoms, like lower back pain, sudden weight gain and leg swelling, on the hot weather or one too many jalapeno burgers.
Yet, depending on their severity, these warning signs can signal preeclampsia, a condition in which the expectant mother’s blood pressure rises to dangerous levels, potentially leading to a variety of other life-threatening conditions. The disorder often comes out of the blue, and the only cure is to deliver the child, often weeks before his or her scheduled due date.
Jennifer Killion (pictured) of Overland, for instance, was just 19 weeks into her first pregnancy when her blood pressure raced to 220/110, and her kidneys and liver began diving into organ failure.
“My family was told to prepare for the worst, as my doctors did not know if I would survive,” she explained by email.
“At 19 weeks, preeclampsia is very rare. I was induced to save my own life, and my little girl Abigail was stillborn, being ultimately too premature to survive delivery.”
Five years later, and after the birth of a second daughter who is now 3, Killion is still affected by her life-changing battle with preeclampsia. So much so that she has joined a handful of other preeclampsia survivors in organizing St. Louis’ first Promise Walk for Preeclampsia on May 12 to help other families facing this frightening condition.
Helping others through their experiences
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia occurs in one out of every 12 pregnancies, and 25% of those cases lead to serious complications for the mother. However, most women aren’t aware of the severity of the condition and how quickly it can escalate into a life and death situation.
Such was the case for Jaime Granger of Fenton. During her first pregnancy, she had noticed some swelling, but figured it was due to the June heat. However, at her 30-week check-up, she was found to have high blood pressure as well as protein in her urine, and had gained five pounds in a week. Granger was diagnosed with preeclampsia and placed on bedrest for six weeks until her son Christian was born.
After preeclampsia led her second child to be born at 33 weeks, it was recommended to Granger that she not become pregnant again due to her risk of HELLP syndrome, a variant of preeclampsia which can lead to liver rupture or stroke. As they began pursuing a vasectomy for her husband, Granger was surprised to learn she was already pregnant. At 20 weeks, her daughter, Sydney Alexis, was born early due to complications and passed away two hours after her birth.
Said Granger by email, “We were devastated by the loss of Sydney. We began attending Heartprints, the pregnancy and infant loss support group through Mercy Medical Center. There I met a group of moms who had lost their precious babies to preeclampsia. Despite my own experience with preeclampsia, I had never realized that babies and moms die from the disease.”
It was at Heartprints that Granger, who eventually had a fourth child who is now 19 months old, met Killion and numerous other families affected by preeclampsia. Through their shared experiences, they also began to find hope and healing through the Preeclampsia Foundation, which not only funds research and treatment for preeclampsia, but provides a community for families facing the condition.
“The Preeclampsia Foundation has saved my life. Literally,” said Killion. “After our loss, the support and friendship I received from the online community of women helped me through some of my darkest days. The women there have been constant supporters and cheerleaders for me and my family.
Not only have they offered me emotional support, but the wealth of knowledge has been tremendous. I don’t know if I would have the courage to move forward with another pregnancy if it wasn’t for the Preeclampsia Foundation and the online community of women who, every day, talked me through the fear of being pregnant again after preeclampsia.”
Some of the members of Heartprints wanted to find a way to reach out to other families facing preeclampsia in the community – and to alert expectant mothers about the disorder. Granger, for instance, had heard of Promise Walks for Preeclampsia across the country to support the mission of the Preeclampsia Foundation, but was disappointed there were no walks in the St. Louis area.
That’s when an incredible group of volunteers got to work.
Led by Granger, and with guidance from the Preeclampsia Foundation, volunteers from Heartprints began planning a local walk from the ground-up, getting sponsors and spreading the word through grassroots efforts. On Saturday, May 12, 2012, the first Promise Walk in St. Louis will kick off at 10 a.m. at Millennium Park. Walkers can register for $20 per adult and $10 per child now or $25 and $10 the day of the Walk.
The goal of Promise Walk St. Louis is to raise $5,000 for the Foundation, but just as important, it’s to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia. Remarked Killion, “I know that for myself, I had no idea what preeclampsia was when I was diagnosed with it. I don’t ever want a pregnant woman to say again, ‘What is preeclampsia?’”
For Granger, the Walk is a way to give back to the Preeclampsia Foundation, which means the world to this mom and her children.
“For me, the Preeclampsia Foundation means hope. Hope that someday this disease will be understood and maybe even have a cure. Hope that my own daughters won’t have to suffer with it when they have their own babies. Hope that no other moms will have to say goodbye to their babies too soon or feel completely hopeless while their precious little one suffers in the NICU. It also means that more moms will have the knowledge they need about preeclampsia.”
It’s not too late to sign your team up for the Promise Walk – for more information, visit www.promisewalk.org/stlouis.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Killion