When her baby boy was three months old Kate Inwood began to feel unwell. Waking in the middle of the night she found it extremely hard to breathe. Her legs felt heavy, and she would cough for hours.
Googling her symptoms, the new mum was shocked to see they could be signs of a rare heart condition brought on by pregnancy. She went to the doctor, and after being referred to a cardiologist Kate’s fears were confirmed.
At the age of 40, the teaching assistant from Newport was diagnosed with a condition called Postpartum (or peripartum) cardiomyopathy (PPCM) which is triggered by pregnancy and can lead to serious complications, including heart failure. Kate, who was previously fit and healthy, exercised regularly and avoided alcohol, was shocked to be told she needed a pacemaker which would also act as an internal defibrillator.
PPCM can occur in the last month of pregnancy, or up to five months after giving birth. For Kate the symptoms meant even walking around the house was a challenge. She said not having the energy to pick up her baby son Llewi if he needed her was frightening.
“Lifting him in the air was a huge strain. Deep down I knew it was getting worse. At night, I would prop myself up with pillows to try and make myself comfortable. If I yawned, it felt like my lungs were only half full, almost like I was drowning.”
PPCM causes enlarging of the heart around the time of childbirth which reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body properly. It affects hundreds of women in the UK each year with symptoms including tiredness, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, and a feeling of a fluttering or racing heart, known as palpitations.
Diagnosed when Llewi was five months old, Kate had her first procedure at the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff soon afterwards in July 2012. Although it initially seemed to have gone well Kate found herself in extreme pain recovering at home and returned to hospital to be told that the wires had become displaced, so she needed another operation.
As she marks getting past the 10th anniversary of her diagnosis and surgery, Kate said she wanted to raise awareness of her condition. “The toll that having children causes on the female body is something that isn’t spoken about enough and I want to spread awareness of underlying conditions that can be triggered by pregnancy.
“Even though I cannot have any more children, as the stress of pregnancy would be too high risk, I count my blessings every single day. I’ve got to keep myself alive for the amazing family I have that continues to support me every single day.”
Kate, now 50, is married to Tim, 53, who has daughters Gabriella and Annabelle from a previous marriage. A former business owner, Kate has now gone back to her previous role as a teaching assistant at Jubilee Park Primary School in Rogerstone. She said she has adapted to her new life, tries to keep active and joins Llewi, now 11, running around the park.
But she says she needs to be cautious around certain types of electrical devices which could affect her pacemaker and can’t swim by herself in case the defibrillator activates. She also has a device in her bedroom to alert the hospital if her pacemaker detects a problem and always carries a notification device to alert her if there is something wrong with her pacemaker.
In 2016 Kate ran a Marathon for the British Heart Foundation saying she wanted to give back to charities like the British Heart Foundation that helped her. She has raised more than £1,000 for the BHF and has campaigned to get defibrillators fitted in venues around her community, including her local school. She is now in talks with Newport Council to raise funds to have a defibrillator fitted in every school in her area – 53 in total. You can keep up to date with more stories from across Newport by subscribing to our daily newsletter here.
Kate shared her story with WalesOnline to raise awareness of the BHF’s new campaign ‘This is Science’, calling for donations to research which could lead to new treatments and cures for heart and circulatory diseases. You can find out more about the project here and watch the campaign film here. To find out about the British Heart Foundation’s research follow this link