When Normal Isn’t Normal: A Preeclampsia Survival Story

By: Cheryl Abrams

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pregnant woman May 22, 2020, is Preeclampsia Awareness Day. Crouse Health Foundation has established a special fund for which donations will enable Crouse Health to raise awareness about the condition (and about HELLP Syndrome) through programs and support activities.

We thank Jackie Terribile of Manlius for telling her story of having HELLP Syndrome (a form of preeclampsia) during her first pregnancy fifteen years ago. She is hoping to make women aware of the signs and symptoms of these conditions and, as she says, to encourage them to “listen to their instincts.”

We appreciate Farah Jadran of CNYCentral and Sistina Giordano of Newschannel 9’s Bridge Street for featuring Jackie, along with Kathleen Miller-Murphy, director of women’s health integration at Crouse on their respective programs today.

What is Preeclampsia?

A serious health condition, preeclampsia affects two to eight percent of pregnancies worldwide, according to the March of Dimes. In the United States, it’s the cause of 15 percent (about three in 20) of premature births (defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies. But if not diagnosed and treated, the can cause severe health problems for the expectant mom and her baby.

Preeclampsia usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth (called postpartum preeclampsia) when a woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, such as kidneys and liver, may not be working normally.

Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling in the legs, hands or face; breathing problems; sudden weight gain; nausea; pain in the upper right belly area or in the shoulder; chronic headache; and changes in vision.

Jackie’s Story
Back in 2005, Jackie Terribile looked forward to becoming a mother, enjoying what she thought was a healthy, normal pregnancy. She felt wonderful. Yet a few weeks before her due date, her life took frightful turn.

She had begun to have stomach pain, and was checked by her OB physician several times. Because her blood pressure was not high and her protein levels were in the typical range, in the absence of any other abnormal indications, Jackie was assured all was well.

All Not Well
In the early hours of Thursday, May 5, however, Jackie was in constant pain and had spent several hours being sick to her stomach. Her husband took her to Crouse, where she was admitted for testing. The next day, she was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, a rare life-threatening pregnancy complication with a reported 30 percent mortality rate, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation.

The letters of HELLP stand for the conditions the syndrome produces: H, hemolysis, or the breaking down of red blood cells; EL, for elevated liver enzymes; and LP, for a low platelet count. With these symptoms and on a high dose of magnesium to counteract the progression of the syndrome, Jackie recalls being very groggy during this time.

Signs that her liver was beginning to shut down emerged. Also, her platelet count was very low, which can cause severe bleeding. The “cure” for the condition, also preserving the life of the mother and baby, is giving birth.

Giving Birth is the Cure
On Friday, May 6, labor was induced, and that evening Jackie delivered a healthy 6 lb. 9 oz. baby boy, Michael Terribile, IV. Because the newborn was sick from the effects of HELLP Syndrome, he was admitted to Crouse’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where he stayed for a week. “The NICU doctors and nurses were amazing and kind,” Jackie recalls. “They spoiled Michael with all kinds of attention,” she says, noting that he was the biggest baby in the unit at the time.”

Three full months passed before Jackie felt well again. Contemplating the birth of another child after her harrowing experience took some careful consideration. Eventually she and her husband, Michael, a physician assistant at Fayetteville Dermatology, decided to consult with several OB physicians before embarking on a second pregnancy. After a healthy nine months, Jackie gave birth to their second son, Carter, on Sept. 29, 2008.

Follow Your Instincts
Looking back, Jackie believes the signs and symptoms were there, but that she didn’t acknowledge — to herself or her doctor — precisely how she was feeling. She advises women who are pregnant to “follow your instincts.” She explains, “You may think your physical ailments are ‘normal’ during pregnancy, but they may not be normal at all. Be in tune with your body and candid with your OB providers.”

CNYCentral: Jackie’s Story

Cheryl Abrams is Director of Communications & Digital Media at Crouse Health. She earned an M.S. in Communications Management from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, where she has served as an adjunct professor of public relations. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Health Academy of PRSA and a board member of the Healthcare Management Association of CNY.

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