Jennifer Heiniger – Education as Empowerment
Jennifer Heiniger is the Director of Patient Education for EndPreeclampsia and a three time survivor of preeclampsia. She keeps busy raising her four children and writing educational materials for patients and survivors.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve known I was meant to be a teacher. But if you had told me in college that I would spend most of my time teaching about pregnancy, I never would have believed you.
It started with the birth of my first child. At 35 weeks, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening complication that involves high blood pressure as a main symptom. I went into multi-organ failure, heart failure among them, and my daughter had to be born prematurely.
I went on to have preeclampsia two more times. The second time was much milder. The third was a set of twins. I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension much earlier in that pregnancy, which was terrifying. Amazingly, we all stayed stable until delivery at 36 weeks. But about an hour after birth, I again developed cerebral edema and became unresponsive for over 24 hours.
Going through a health crisis like this is traumatizing. My own personal form of therapy is to learn everything I can about what happened, and then share it with others. I am now the Director of Patient Education for a nonprofit called EndPreeclampsia. I spend hours each week reading research, writing informational pieces, and answering questions from other patients and survivors.
One area of research that has come to the forefront is long term heart health. A history of preeclampsia is a risk factor for future cardiovascular disease. My team brings this up about once a month in our online support group, but the information can be triggering from women who have already been through a health crisis. It is scary to think about heart attacks and strokes.
This year in February, we brought in a woman who was a survivor of both preeclampsia and, later, a heart attack. Our goal was to make this a little less scary, to show that we can still live long, healthy, happy lives with heart disease. To show that knowledge is power, and how we can use the knowledge of our risks to protect ourselves.
Little did we know that the first life we saved could be mine.
The week after our live chat, I developed chest pain and shortness of breath. I knew I was at risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. I used that knowledge to get myself to the hospital for evaluation. As scary as it is to have the risk of another health crisis hanging over our heads, it is always better to know. The knowledge of our risks can motivate us to make healthy lifestyle choices, to get regular physicals and screenings, and to seek care quickly when symptoms appear. It can save our lives.
(Thankfully, everything checked out with my heart. After having Covid in December, my doctor believes this is some sort of post-Covid syndrome, what they’re calling long Covid.)
And finally, a link to the video I recorded when hospitalized in March to share with the EndPreeclampsia Facebook support group: