Jen Rohe assumed she was experiencing typical postpartum symptoms after the birth of her second child.
But the Olympia, Washington, resident found out that her shortness of breath, elevated heart rate and fatigue were signs of heart failure and she needed a transplant. Rohe now educates new moms about their risks.
She went from being healthy and active to getting a heart transplant in just 50 days — showing her that new moms like her need to be aware of heart disease risks.
Her health problems started soon after the birth of her second child, Sienna, in November 2017. After leaving the hospital, she figured that her shortness of breath, elevated heart rate and fatigue were typical postpartum symptoms.
She didn’t have any problems when she gave birth two years earlier to her son, Weston.
“I was this person who thought I knew everything that could go wrong,” Rohe said. “But I had no idea about the heart risks that affect new moms. You can be young, active and healthy — it doesn’t matter.”
Within days, her symptoms worsened. With extreme fatigue and trouble breathing after walking up a flight of stairs, she was readmitted to the hospital and diagnosed with an uncommon form of heart failure called peripartum cardiomyopathy. The condition, which happens during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth, weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body.
Doctors put her on life support, which supplied the lungs with much-needed oxygen. But it didn’t fix the problem. So they installed a temporary artificial heart to help pump blood from her heart and listed her for a transplant.
Then, she started having other complications, including a buildup of blood around the artificial heart that required emergency surgery. A clot formed around the device, causing a stroke.
In January 2018, she had her heart transplant.
“My life is very different now,” Rohe said. “I grieved the life I used to have. But now I realize I am so grateful for the life I do have.”
She also has a greater appreciation for her two toddlers and husband, Chris, who as an oral surgery resident took “pages and pages of notes” during her medical appointments.
Five months post-transplant, the family traveled to Disney World, which gave them a sense of normalcy. Another cathartic experience, Rohe said, was blogging about her health condition.
“One of the things I learned is that I really need to take time for myself,” she said. “Self-care doesn’t mean I only worry about myself. It means I include myself in the equation.”
Since her experience, Rohe has advocated for moms facing the emotional and physical toll of heart conditions to take charge of their health and know that many are preventable.
“My kids are super fun,” she said. “They’re very loud and love to play. Do what you can to take care of yourself because you don’t want to miss out on all those moments.”
Read about the American Heart Association's public policy statement, "Call to Action: Maternal Health and Saving Mothers," which sets a new policy agenda to ensure healthy pregnancies, healthy births and healthy moms.