Mary Whitaker had just given birth to her third child when she began feeling ill. She was lightheaded and started experiencing a pulsating pain on the side of her head and neck. As a new mom and foster parent, she assumed she just needed some rest.
Mary called her husband Quinton, and told him she wasn’t feeling well, and she was planning to lie down for a nap. Quinton had a gut feeling and encouraged her to take her blood pressure. When Mary shared her blood pressure was high, Quinton knew she needed to go to the hospital. There, Mary was told she was experiencing a heart attack at the age of 33. Five weeks and multiple tests later, it was revealed that a virus that she contracted while pregnant had weakened her heart, leaving her with heart failure.
Shortly after being diagnosed, Mary and Quinton learned they were expecting another child. Mary knew this would be a high-risk pregnancy but was excited to expand their family. What came next, no mother and father could prepare for.
Medical professionals told the Whitakers that Mary’s heart was not strong enough to withstand pregnancy and birth.
She would ultimately have to choose between her life and her unborn child’s. “As a mother and a Christian, I couldn’t make that decision alone. I just couldn’t. It had to be a decision that Quinton and I made together,” Mary remembers. Quinton couldn’t fathom life without his partner and mother of their children. Today, the Whitakers are turning such a dark time in their lives into something good, by sharing their experience.
“Sharing my story is difficult and has required us to be so vulnerable, but if it changes a life, I know it’s worth it. As women, we are strong and we are powerful, but we are not invincible. Listen to your body, trust your gut, and get checked out.”
Heart disease is the number one killer of new moms. In fact, 1 in 3 women are still dying of heart disease, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Furthermore, women of color face a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke and complications during or immediately after pregnancy.
Mary has joined forces with the American Heart Association to share her story. To learn more visit www. heart.org/kansas