Having a baby is meant to be a joyful experience for a woman.
But for Jessica Grib, the birth of her second child left her fighting for life after she developed a little-known heart condition that only affects pregnant women and new mothers, but is often misdiagnosed as a normal pregnancy symptom.
Grib, of the US state of Missouri, was just 30 years old when she suffered heart failure and went into cardiogenic shock moments after giving birth to her daughter in September 2016.
?The experience led her to become a tireless campaigner for the American Heart Association and Save the Mommies ?¡ª a non-profit organisation for the prevention of Peripartum Cardiomyopathy through advocating, education and research.
According to the American Heart Association, Grib's fight for life began moments after her daughter's birth and saw three different health professionals perform CPR on her for at least 10 minutes.
"One of my nurses, a young father, had the mantra, 'We're not going to lose her, we're not going to lose her' during the compressions," she said.
A cardiologist also vowed not to give up as they tried to work out what was causing her heart to fail.
Doctors were eventually able to pinpoint the cause ¡ª Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM), the symptoms of which are often dismissed as ordinary pregnancy or postpartum symptoms.
Grib suffered heart, liver and kidney failure and was placed on life support.
She awoke from sedation on October 9, 2016 ¡ª her sixth wedding anniversary. She was finally able to meet her daughter, Amelia, two days later, with a photographer capturing the moment.
"I have no recollection of her birth or the events which followed," she said.
In a post on her Facebook page two years ago, Grib said October 11 remained a "very special day for our family" as it was the date she got to meet her two-week-old daughter for the first time.
"I will never forget the feeling of holding my kids after being through so much," she said, adding it was also the day she was told she also had blood clots in her uterus and heart.
"But even that news couldn't darken this beautiful day. I had my babies with me and I knew I was going to survive.
"This is what heart failure in pregnancy looks like. This is why I am fighting so hard. No mother should be taken from her babies," she wrote along with the hashtags #savethemommies, #ppcmsurvivor, #ppcmawareness, #survivor and #heartmama.
Grib was discharged from hospital a week later, after a three-week stay.
The once passionate scuba diver was determined to return to life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, but she first had to get better.
According to US Today, doctors eventually discovered Grib had a rare tumour called a paraganglioma growing outside the adrenal glands on top of her kidneys, which had contributed to her heart condition.
She had the tumour removed in December 2016, and recently marked five years cancer-free.
"My family and friends were my reasons why I fought as hard as I did to survive. Their faith, as well as the faith of my incredible medical teams, are the reasons why I am still here today," she said.
Grib, who said she was unprepared for her diagnosis, is committed to educating others about the disease, which often gets missed.
In Grib's case, she had been diagnosed with high blood pressure while pregnant with her daughter but when medication failed to fix it, it was recommended she deliver her baby at 37 weeks. She underwent a caesarean shortly before she crashed.?
She recently shared two photos on Facebook, taken four years apart, to highlight the symptoms of the heart condition she didn't know she had.
"The picture on the left was taken when I was six months pregnant with Amelia in 2016. The picture on the right is from summer 2020. In 2016, I hated how my face looked in pictures because my skin and eyes looked awful," she said.
"I assumed my symptoms (changes in my physical appearance, being worn down and tired, having trouble breathing when lying down at night and experiencing excruciating headaches) were normal in pregnancy... especially because I was also chasing a toddler around!
"It turns out, the paraganglioma tumour I had really took a toll on me physically, even down to my facial features.
"If you are pregnant and experiencing any of these symptoms, please go to www.savethemommies.com to take their self-test. It could save your life!"
She told the American Heart Association she wanted women to trust their instincts when it came to their health.
"If you believe something is wrong or you don't quite feel like yourself, reach out to medical professionals until someone helps you find an answer," she said.
"Too many women with PPCM are told they have exaggerated pregnancy or postpartum symptoms and are left to suffer in silence."
According to the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia, PPCM is a rare type of cardiomyopathy that occurs during the last month of pregnancy or the first few months after giving birth.
It is similar to dilated cardiomyopathy in that it affects the left ventricle if the heart. It causes the heart to become enlarged and weakened, meaning it cannot pump blood properly.
While a serious condition, about 70 per cent of women recover within a year.
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