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Cleveland Clinic celebrates young mother’s remarkable heart journey

CLEVELAND (WJW) – Cleveland Clinic doctors say when a young mother arrived in their ICU, they worried if they’d be able to save her. Years later, she’s celebrating Mother’s Day with a new heart.

This story begins with the dream of becoming a mom. In 2012, Alicia Keeney’s dream was starting to become real.

“I found out it was a boy. I was so blessed and excited, and I was having a normal pregnancy up until I wasn’t,” she said.

Doctors diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy, or pregnancy-induced heart failure, and at 34 weeks, the West Virginia mom noticed something wasn’t right.

“I couldn’t breathe so bad that I couldn’t hold my hands above my head to wash my hair or anything, and I was vomiting,” she said.

Keeney was rushed to her local hospital and only remembers getting onto an elevator. Doctors there felt they’d done all they could and six weeks later, she woke up from a coma at the Cleveland Clinic.

“I was confined to a bed. I had tubes coming out everywhere. I was so confused and I was like, ‘I was pregnant… I know I was pregnant,’” Keeney said.

Her son, Easton, had been delivered in an emergency C-section. Keeney says she’ll never forget holding him for the first time.

“I just remember crying so hard and I was saying, ‘I’m a mommy, mom,’ and she was wiping my face because I was, you know, tears were going everywhere. I was completely flooded,” she said.

“She came in critically ill and was placed on a machine called ECMO which is really life support. It’s a heart, lung machine in order to keep her organs profuse and get blood to her brain and her kidneys and her liver,” said Dr. Maria Mountis.

Dr. Mountis says the entire team at the clinic looked at Alicia’s options and ultimately decided to give her a heart pump. The implant was a temporary fix and two years later, they knew she needed a new heart.

Keeney describes the transplant as the easiest surgery she’s ever had. Now, she gets to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend with her nine-year-old son.

It’s a dream come true.

“My favorite part is just the bond that I have with him. And realizing that, like, I thought that I knew love before, but I totally had no clue,” she said.

Doctors say symptoms of pregnancy-induced heart failure, like shortness of breath and swelling, can be confusing because they also occur during normal pregnancies.

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