The Challenge: Pulmonary Hypertension
Julia Feitner was a reasonably healthy and fit 25-year-old when she gave birth to her first son, Alex, in 2004.
But after her pregnancy, she couldn't bounce back. Julia kept gaining weight and getting more out of shape, with even simple activities like washing dishes leaving her very tired.
Julia didn't seek help until a few years later, when she was seven months into her second pregnancy. By that time, she 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 five days of testing and was put on oxygen.
A doctor at her local hospital in central Pennsylvania diagnosed Julia with pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. He said she never should have gotten pregnant.
“He told me that I was so sick that either my baby or I would die," Julia says. "The hospital decided they couldn’t treat me.”
The Path to UPMC's Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center
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.
Julia's doctor spoke to Daniel Edelstone, MD, an obstetrician who said he'd successfully delivered a number of women with pulmonary hypertension.
Dr. Edelstone sent for Julia immediately, and she and her husband traveled to Pittsburgh by ambulance. Less than 24 hours after her diagnosis, Julia underwent an emergency Caesarian section and delivered a small, but healthy, baby boy named Harrison.
The next day, Julia was transported to the Cardiac ICU at UPMC Presbyterian, where doctors from UPMC’s Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center started her on an IV of Flolan, a drug that dilates the blood vessels in the lungs, making it easier for blood to flow.
Julia spent two weeks in the ICU, then another week in the hospital. A few days after she was discharged, her friends came to the Step Down Unit with Harrison, who had been kept in the NICU to gain weight. Not long after, the family was together again at 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 the big decision to move to Pittsburgh so they could be closer to her medical team at UPMC.
The Solution: Medical Management
Since Harrison's birth, Julia has managed her condition with medication. More recently, she's also taken part in pulmonary rehabilitation, a specialized program that helps people with chronic lung diseases increase their lung function through closely monitored exercise.
“Having pulmonary hypertension is like breathing through a straw, so it makes everything more difficult,” she explains. "I do get tired easily, but right now, I feel like my health is on the upswing."
Julia stays busy with many volunteer efforts. She's active at Alex and Harrison's school and through her involvement with local and national pulmonary hypertension groups. Julia co-chairs a pulmonary hypertension support group for patients and their families in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, and serves as race director for the PHenomenal Hope 5K Run/Walk, an annual event that raises funds for research and increases awareness about the condition.
"These days, I'm not counting every breath. I'm making every breath count," Julia says.
Julia's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
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