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A Rebirth for Mother of Four

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Whitney Keller and her baby, smiling

UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute is first in Ohio to enroll postpartum women in study of cardiomyopathy

Just days after delivering her daughter, Whitney Keller grew severely short of breath and ended up in the Emergency Department at Marietta Memorial Hospital. Her heart stopped twice in the ED. She doesn’t remember the mobile ICU transport that brought her across the state to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, where she woke up in the care of specialists who could treat her ailing heart.

“You go from just being pregnant and delivering to waking up in Cleveland a few days later,” said Keller, 36, who also suffered from preeclampsia during her pregnancy. “It’s pretty intense.”

Keller was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) and spent 12 days in the Heart Failure ICU at UH Cleveland Medical Center. Her heart function was severely reduced and she was in cardiogenic shock. She was then enrolled in the REBIRTH study (Randomized Evaluation of Bromocriptine in Myocardial Recovery Therapy for Peripartum Cardiomyopathy), which is a multi-center NIH-sponsored trial.

UH is among 27 currently active sites nationwide and has enrolled the first patient in Ohio.

Chantal ElAmm, MD, an advanced heart failure and transplantation specialist who directs the cardio obstetrics program, is also the principal investigator for the study at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

Dr. ElAmm is excited to finally see the study being conducted in the United States after smaller ones performed in South Africa and Europe showed encouraging results. She says that women enrolled in the trial will be randomized to either placebo or to bromocriptine, a drug which inhibits prolactin. Participants will be followed to evaluate the effect of bromocriptine on myocardial recovery and survival, free from death and advanced therapies such as left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) or heart transplantation.

The REBIRTH study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), seeks participants who are:

  • Women 18 and older
  • Newly diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy post-delivery and within five months post-partum with an ejection fraction < 35%
  • Not planning on breastfeeding

Emily Mullenax, MSN, RN, coordinates enrollment in the trial at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. She says women may experience shortness of breath, chest pain or problems with their heart rates or blood pressure during pregnancy that can be a sign of a larger issue. Women are not enrolled in the study until after they give birth.

Keller is grateful she found this study. Before a defibrillator was implanted in her chest and she enrolled in the REBIRTH study, she worried that she might need a heart transplant.

“Everyone at UH has been absolutely wonderful,” Keller said.

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