A young mother’s journey

Jeff Winget
April 23, 2019
Brittany with husband and three children

Just hours after giving birth, Brittany Crosby Howard found herself back in the hospital, fighting for her life with severe heart failure. Perhaps that’s why her friends have referred to her as the Warrior Mom. 

“MUSC saved my life,” Howard said. “I love the amazing doctors, nurses, and staff there. They treated me in the most human way possible. The way they communicated and talked through everything, helped me develop immense trust and respect.”

Howard is originally from James Island, and lives there today with her family. She is a 2010 graduate of the MUSC Physician Assistant Studies program at the College of Health Professions. The mother of two sons, a 12-year-old and a toddler, Howard was excitedly awaiting the birth of a baby girl this past fall. She had the usual morning sickness expected early in her pregnancy, but during her second trimester, she developed a cough, which she attributed to acid reflux. Unfortunately, the cough progressively became worse and at 35 weeks, she developed shortness of breath and felt miserable. 

“Being pregnant, they of course wouldn’t take X-rays,” Howard said. “So, they treated me with antibiotics in case of possible pneumonia. But my shortness of breath got so bad, that I couldn’t switch clothes from the washing machine to the dryer without having to sit down panting. I was so out of breath.”

Howard still didn’t worry much about her condition, believing her symptoms were simply part of being pregnant, and of course compounded by chasing a 2-year-old through the house, chauffeuring a 12-year-old around, and being a working mom. Thankfully, and without any complications, Howard delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl. 

She returned to her pediatrician two days later for a standard follow-up visit with her newborn daughter. After looking at the baby, the doctor quickly determined that it was Howard who needed the attention and she was sent immediately to the ER.

“I thought it would just be a matter of getting a quick chest X-ray, be treated for possible pneumonia, and be on my way home to my family in just a couple of hours,” she explained. 

However, the emergency room X-ray revealed that Howard had an enlarged heart. She would not be going home anytime soon. She quickly found herself being rushed by ambulance to MUSC’s cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) in severe heart failure, with her heart functioning at only 13%.

Howard had developed a rare pregnancy induced condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM). PPCM is a form of dilated cardiomyopathy that is defined as deterioration in cardiac function, typically presenting itself between the last month of pregnancy and up to five months postpartum. Despite many days of aggressive medical management in the CVICU at MUSC, doctors soon determined that Howard would need a new heart. 

“The toughest part of all this was I had a newborn baby that needed me,” Howard said. She was desperate to spend time bonding and nursing her newborn. Doctors and nurses at MUSC quickly realized she wouldn’t do well without her baby by her side, so they made every accommodation to insure both mother and daughter lived together in the CVICU. 

Fortunately, she wasn’t on the waiting list for a new heart very long. She received her new heart Oct. 13, a little more than three weeks after delivering her daughter. Howard is one of 545 patients who have received heart transplants at MUSC over the past 30 years. 

Following the transplant, Howard remained in the CVICU for four days, followed by an additional five days in the hospital. Miraculously, she returned home to her family only nine days after receiving her new heart. She is indeed, the Warrior Mom. 

Howard is alive and thriving today because of her evaluation, diagnoses, and treatment at MUSC Heart & Vascular Center. “I feel amazing,” she shared. “I can really do anything I want physically at this point, even holding my 2-year-old in one arm and the baby in the other. I couldn’t be more perfect.” 

The MUSC Heart & Vascular Center has made enormous strides in providing patients throughout South Carolina the most advanced cardiovascular care available anywhere. As part of an academic medical center, it’s guided by a three-part mission of research, patient care, and education. MUSC is helping push the limits of what’s possible in cardiovascular care, giving patients like Howard and their families hope for a long and active life. 

“I love these doctors, nurses, and the entire transplant team,” reflected Howard. “I could tell I was more than a patient; my story touched their hearts. They will be friends for life.” 

About the Author

Jeff Winget

Keywords: Patient Story