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Mom, 27, tackling Heart Run 2 months after attack

Mike Nesper

A week after giving birth to her first child, Madisyn Brown felt short of breath. Her chest was tight. Her heart pounded, as if she was exercising.

She wasn't.

She couldn't lay flat while sleeping and was unaware that was because her lungs were filling with fluid.

All signs of an impending heart attack went unnoticed. After all, Brown is just 27.

But a heart attack is what the 2004 Chugiak High graduate suffered two months ago. She never expected to be walking in Saturday's Heart Run. But she is, along with her daughter and husband.

Brown gave birth to Harper on Feb. 18. Seven days later, she passed out at home while her husband, Stan, went for a haircut. Brown's brother-in-law found her when he came to visit the newest member of the family, and called 911.

What originally was thought to be an infection, Brown said, was really peripartum cardiomyopathy, a condition that occurs shortly before or after a woman gives birth. The heart expands and weakens, which decreases its ability to pump blood. Brown's situation was exacerbated by blood clots that formed in her heart.

Brown said doctors thought she needed a heart transplant so she was medevacked to Seattle and awoke five days later in the ICU at the University of Washington Medical Center. Doctors were unsure if she'd survive those first five days, Brown said.

Thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery, a transplant wasn't necessary. With 22 family members by her side, Brown spent a month in the hospital. It was there she found out about a Heart Run group, Team Mad Love, that friends created in her honor. What started with 50 members had grown to 159 by Friday and raised more than $6,000, the third-most among all Alaska teams.

Brown was touched by the support, but she never expected to be walking with her teammates.

"I didn't think for a second that I'd be able to register and be able to participate," she said.

As of Friday, Joe's Army led all teams with $11,500 raised for the American Heart Association, and the total donations topped $243,000, with more than 5,000 participants registered. Those wanting to participate in the untimed 5-kilometer or 3-kilometer events can still register Saturday from 7:30-9 a.m.

Warning signs

Brown went home with her newborn on a Friday. Her heart attack came on a Tuesday. Her symptoms started over the weekend, but Brown didn't know they were symptoms.

"Had I known what the warning signs were, I would have been in the emergency room a lot sooner," she said.

Brown said called her obstetrician/gynecologist, who suggested anxiety could be causing her symptoms. That made sense to Brown, she had just given birth to her first child.

Brown never suspected a heart attack. Not at her age. But it happened, and she wants others to learn from her experience.

"If there's any message in this whole thing, it's that ... young people do have heart attacks," she said. "If you have something like that going on, you should probably get your butt to the emergency room."

Healthy baby

Harper had her two-month checkup Friday, she's in perfect health.

"I'm just thankful that she wasn't affected by any of this," Brown said.

As for Brown, she suffered permanent heart damage and still has two clots. She's on nine different medications and recently had a defibrillator implanted. Still, she's upbeat.

"I'm not good as new, but I feel really good," she said. "And that's all I can ask for."

Brown isn't sulking. She's not complaining about being on medication the rest of her life. She said she's fortunate to be able to raise heart awareness and walk with her family Saturday.

"If I have to take some pills, I have to take some pills," she said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.


By MIKE NESPER
mnesper@adn.com