North Carolina, USA
Nineteen years ago, Mary Kay Ballasiotes was eagerly expecting the arrival of her third child. As a busy mother of two, Mary Kay wasn’t expecting any surprises during her pregnancy or delivery.
However, an ultrasound procedure at 29 weeks’ gestation found that her baby’s brain ventricles were enlarged, which now meant she had a high-risk pregnancy. Doctors diagnosed her baby with probable hydrocephalus, a condition when there is an excess of cerebral spinal fluid accumulation around the brain.
Later, at 35 weeks pregnant, Mary Kay broke her foot and needed to have surgery. Her doctor decided to induce labor the following week in hopes of a vaginal birth. However, it didn’t work and a Caesarean-section (C-section) delivery was done, with the intention of completing the foot surgery the day after her C-section.
Unfortunately, the pain from the C-section was too intense and her foot surgery was delayed. Since Mary Kay’s broken foot prevented her from walking, she was given heparin (a blood thinner) to help prevent clots while she awaited her foot surgery.
Two days after the C-section, while still in the hospital, Mary Kay began to feel severe chest pain, making it painful to breathe. She reported it to the doctor on call, but they told her not to worry as she was on heparin. With her foot surgery finally rescheduled, she stopped taking heparin the day before the surgery, which is standard protocol. The foot surgery was successful, and Mary Kay was scheduled to go home with her newborn baby the next day.
However, something was wrong. Mary Kay felt a pain in the calf of her leg that did not have the surgery.
“It felt like a muscle strain with a ‘marble sized’ lump,” Mary Kay recalls. She immediately alerted her medical team and an ultrasound was done on her leg.
The bad news was that Mary Kay had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). She reminded her doctors of the chest pain she had experienced between her surgeries. Upon testing, her doctors discovered that she also had a pulmonary embolism (PE). Unbeknownst to Mary Kay or her doctors, she had developed blood clots in between her two surgeries, which could have had potentially devastating results. Luckily, Mary Kay spoke up about the fact that “something didn’t feel quite right.”
“I felt like if I hadn’t told my medical team, it would have been overlooked,” she shares. “If you feel like something is not right, you need to get it checked out.”
Mary Kay was in the hospital a total of 12 days due to her foot surgery, DVT and PE, in addition to her delivery. At the same time, their newborn daughter was also in the hospital recovering from surgery for hydrocephalus, which doctors determined was a result of a hemorrhage stroke she suffered during her development.
After her discharge from the hospital, Mary Kay describes it as a “chaotic time” with a newborn baby who was recovering from a serious medical condition, coupled with doctor appointments to treat and understand her blood clots. She was prescribed blood thinners for six months and began wearing compression stockings.
Today, Mary Kay and her family live a happy, healthy life. But blood clots are still always top of mind for Mary Kay. Whenever a friend or loved one presents potential symptoms, she always encourages them to listen to their body and seek prompt medical attention.
In addition to her awareness work for blood clots, Mary Kay is a strong advocate and leader for pediatric stroke, which her baby daughter experienced all those years ago. She founded the International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke (IAPS) in 2013 and now travels the world to educate the public about the dangers of pediatric stroke. Her now 18-year-old daughter Michelle is healthy and works alongside her mother to raise awareness about pediatric stroke.
Looking back on that stressful time in her life, Mary Kay shares that it helped her to become an advocate for her own health—a lesson she always reminds others.
“Always listen to your body and ask questions,” she says. “If something doesn’t feel right, tell your doctor.”