Young, Pregnant Mother Became Australia’s First Giant Cell Myocarditis Survivor

Donna Plans on Living the Rest of Her Life to the Fullest

It was Christmas Eve 2007 and whilst wrapping the last of our Christmas presents, I turned to my husband Gary and said how blessed we were. We were both healthy and happy and we had a beautiful little boy Angus who was 18 months old. I was pregnant with a new baby due in two months; I had just turned 36 and was in the prime of my life.

I struggled through Christmas Day, feeling exhausted, with family at our place for lunch. I saw my doctor and he thought I was coming down with a virus.

Later that afternoon I decided to take Angus for a walk in his pram. As I was pushing him up a steep hill I got a burning pain in my chest. Once I got to the top of the hill I collapsed over the pram and tried to get my breath. My husband immediately took me to the hospital.

Doctors ordered a blood test to check cardiac troponin levels and were alarmed to see that they were very high. They thought I was having a heart attack. I was put into critical care as I rapidly declined to the point that my every breath was a painful struggle. They really didnt know what was happening to me. After a few echocardiograms they diagnosed viral myocarditis. The team of specialists decided it was best for both the baby and I, to deliver by caesarean section. My poor husband was told that I might not make it.

Tiny little Ava Lee was born seven weeks early. She went off to special care with Gary and I went back into Intensive Care. I was breathing a lot easier and after three weeks in the hospital I slowly built up enough strength to go home. My echocardiogram looked good so the cardiologist thought I would make a good recovery over the next six months or so.

Once at home life was really tough. I didnt have the energy to be looking after a newborn and a toddler. After two weeks of struggling at home my cardiologist ordered another echocardiogram immediately and saw that I was in heart failure. My heart was really large. He decided that I needed a heart biopsy. The biopsy showed that I had a very rare condition called giant cell myocarditis. This was the worst possible outcome. I started very heavy immunosuppressant intravenous therapy that made me so sick. They decided to implant a defibrillator. When stable, I went home with all my drugs.

Giant cell myocarditis is a nasty condition that most people dont survive. There were no survivors in Australia. After six weeks of the intensive drug therapy my next biopsy showed that the Giant Cells had gone. I was warned I would never be cured as GCM is an immune system disorder that could reoccur.

I realize my life is a gift and I cannot take it for granted. So many people dont survive and it is by Gods Grace that I did; I intend to make it a good one however long that may be.

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