Julia Feitner — UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute Patient Story
The Challenge: Pregnant With Pulmonary Hypertension
It started with the birth of her first child in 2004. Julia Feitner, a reasonably healthy and fit 25-year-old woman, could not bounce back from her pregnancy.
Despite her efforts at the gym, she was gaining weight and getting more and more out of shape. Activities as simple as walking on a treadmill tired her out.
Although she was disheartened, and continued to gain weight, Julia did not seek help until 2 years later, when she was 7 months into her second pregnancy.
By this time, Julia had to crawl on the floor to put toys away and could no longer walk up the stairs.
She broke down crying to her obstetrician, insisting that her problem was more than just weight gain. He ordered her to go to the hospital immediately, where she underwent 5 days of testing, and was put on oxygen.
At her local hospital in central Pennsylvania, Julia was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, although she had none of the typical causes.
The doctor who diagnosed her told her she should never have gotten pregnant.
“He told me that there was more than a 50 percent chance that either my baby or I would die. The hospital decided they couldn’t treat me.”
The Path to UPMC
Desperate for options, Julia’s mother — who had lectured at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC for their nursing continuing education inservices — suggested they call there.
When Julia’s obstetrician called Magee, what seemed like a miracle occurred — a doctor answered the phone and said he had successfully delivered a number of women with pulmonary hypertension.
The physician was Dr. Daniel Edelstone, and he sent for Julia immediately.
The Solution: A C-Section and Time in the Cardiac ICU
Just 12 hours after she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, Julia and her husband arrived at Magee via ambulance. Within the next 12 hours, Julia was intubated and delivered by Caesarian section a small, but healthy baby boy.
“They performed the C-section in the ICU,” says Julia. ”People from 9 different departments were there. The room was overflowing.”
The next day, Julia was transported to the Cardiac ICU at UPMC Presbyterian. There, doctors from UPMC’s Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program started her on an IV, delivering Flolan directly into her heart.
Flolan is a drug that dilates the blood vessels in the heart so more blood can pump through the lungs.
Julia spent 2 weeks in the ICU, then another week in the hospital. A few days before she was discharged, friends came to the Step Down Unit with her newborn baby, who had been kept in the NICU to gain weight. Not long after, the family was together again in their home in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
“My son and I are alive today because they worked together to save us,” states Julia.
That trust led Julia’s family to make a big decision. They moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to her doctor at UPMC.
“I’ve been in the hospital 6 or 7 times at Presby. Each time, it’s the best care. I’m impressed with the doctors, the technology, and the caring hearts of the nurses.”
“I’m on a continual IV. I’ve been on different drugs. One by one, they’ve stopped working. Now I’m in a clinical trial. Once again, UPMC is extending my life.”
Julia was asked to participate in the clinical trial because she was one of the few pulmonary hypertension patients who was sick enough to qualify.
The opportunity to participate in clinical trials is a benefit for many patients, because it affords the chance to receive a new type of therapy or treatment that may not have otherwise been available to them.
UPMC has a strong reputation in cardiovascular disease research. At any one time, there are typically more than 100 clinical trials ongoing at UPMC, in the area of cardiovascular disease alone.
So far, Julia has noticed a difference from her treatment.
“The distance I can walk in 6 minutes has almost doubled. I’m still on the same amount of oxygen, but the quality of my life has drastically improved.”
The Results: Making Memories With Her Family
Today, Julia can’t go swimming or sledding, but she can sit on the floor and play with her children. She can visit the zoo, albeit in a wheelchair.
She carefully has to choose what activities she does everyday, and that, she says, helps her to focus on the important things.
“Life isn’t about the illness anymore,” says Julia.
“I’m deliberate about making memories with my kids. Family and relationships are very important. My illness has changed my perspective on life. I don’t feel sick anymore. I’m grateful to the UPMC staff and the doctor who saved my life. Thanks to them, I am here 2 ½ years longer than I would have been.”