Hello, my name is Nefertari Nelson-Williams and I’m a heart patient blogger. I’m writing this blog so that I can reach out to the world and scream "Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and we’re not taking it anymore!" That's not my only reason for writing these posts. I also want to share my journey so that others living with heart disease will have a place to come for information, comfort, and camaraderie.
My journey with heart disease began in June 2008. I was nine months pregnant with my fifth baby and was as fit as a fiddle until that point. I was lying on my couch one hot day when the pain hit. It was like lightning striking my chest—and then it quickly went away. The pain returned—but this time with a vengeance, causing me to roll off my couch onto the floor.
My husband got me up and into the car and we drove to a nearby hospital. From there, I was airlifted to the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania and taken straight to the catheterization lab, where doctors placed three stents in my heart. When I was transferred to the critical care unit, the doctors broke the news.
I had suffered a rare sudden coronary artery dissection (SCAD), which lead to a massive heart attack. Part of the bottom of my heart muscle had died and I was left with an aneurysm. I was a living time bomb—and still nine months pregnant. They told me and my husband that they couldn’t save both me and the baby. We would have to choose.
As I lay there, I could feel my baby girl kicking in my belly just as her siblings had done. How could I sacrifice her life to save my own? On the other hand, how could I make the choice to leave five children without a mother?
The week went on and I hadn't yet made the decision. The doctors came in often to update me on my condition. One doctor, Dr. Elovitz, made it clear that she wouldn’t leave the hospital until this ordeal was over, and that she would be by my side no matter what I decided.
One day later that week, while I was enjoying a visit with my co-workers, I began to have labor pains. The staff prepared me for a very quick transition to the operating room. At that point, I was seven centimeters dilated—very close to the time when the baby descends. The doctor who had promised to stay by my side was there, just like she said she would be. She had been sleeping at the hospital, waiting for this moment.
As I lay there, one doctor pumped blood into one arm and another doctor pumped medicine into the other arm. My heart began to shut down and I went into flash pulmonary edema. This is when you begin to drown on your own body fluids because it backs into your lungs. Dr. Elovitz yelled something; everyone scrambled; and then I was breathing again. At that point, I was 10 centimeters dilated (the point when the baby should descend). However, my heart was weak and so was I.
Doctor Elovitz could see me fading and said, “Nefertari, you promised me a baby.” She knew she had to lift my spirits quickly. She asked me what type of music I liked. I said club music. She instructed the staff to put the music on loudly, and then she said, "Nefertari, you’re too weak to push. But if you could just bare down a little, I can get the baby out." I did exactly what she told me to and she pulled out a healthy baby girl. Everyone cheered. Before I went back "out," she yelled my name so I could have the first look at my baby.
As my baby girl rested safely in the NICU that night, it was me who was in critical condition. I had a GYN nurse on one side and a cardiac nurse on the other side. Bells and lights went off and they brought me back each time. The following evening, I was finally strong enough to hold my baby—and what a moment it was. She is our little miracle.
That’s why I'm writing this blog. I have a lot to share about my life as a mother of five living with congestive heart failure and an ejection fraction of 35 percent. Although I’m disabled, I’m also a jewelry designer, an inspirational speaker, a columnist, and an advocate for heart health. Perhaps most importantly, I’m a survivor.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope it will comfort and inspire you. When I was first diagnosed, I looked for somewhere I could go to learn more about my condition. It would have helped me so much to know that I wasn't alone. I want to be that voice for you.