Heart Disease and Pregnancy: Mom Dies, Delivers Baby, and Then Comes Back to Life

A miracle if we ever heard one: Erica Nigrelli, a high school English teacher, collapsed inside her classroom at 36 weeks pregnant. A school nurse, assistant, and athletic teacher quickly began CPR and used a defibrillator to restart Nigrelli’s heartbeat. She was rushed to the hospital with her husband – a fellow teacher – at her side, and her baby was delivered by emergency cesarean. But Erica was essentially dead; there was no heartbeat.

Watch this video to hear how both mom and baby ended up surviving this horrible incident, largely thanks to the three heroes who jumped to Erica’s aid:

Erica had an undetected heart defect that caused her to collapse at 36 weeks. Though we don’t know exactly the condition Erica suffered from, there are several things to note about heart conditions during pregnancy.

According to Heart cardiology journal, congenital heart disease is the most common heart defect, with roughly 1% of newborns diagnosed with this condition. Thanks to modern methods in cardiac surgery, more infants than ever  – over 90% – survive to adulthood. There is a population of at least 1 million adults in the United States living with congenital heart disease. Due to the dangers of this disorder, many patients are advised against pregnancy, altogether, though many are able to carry babies to term. Consider, though, that pregnancy already entails increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and increased blood volume – all of which can put strain on the heart and exacerbate existing conditions. The challenge isn’t necessarily insurmountable, but it is definitely something to discuss with doctors and partners.

What can you do to minimize the risk?

  • Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist before conceiving (or early in your pregnancy so that you’ll know what you’re dealing with)
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Minimize stress as much as possible
  • Pay attention to any warning signs – shortness of breath, fainting, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, bloody coughing
  • Adequately prepare for labor, which might include planning to deliver at a birth center that specializes high-risk pregnancy, temporarily moving or staying closer to your place of delivery (to minimize labor stress), and hiring a doula for extra support

Do you have any experience with heart defects and pregnancy? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!


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