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Young mom undergoes right heart catheterization to help manage pulmonary hypertension

Posted at 4:24 PM, Aug 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-24 20:17:37-04

DENVER — When 31-year-old Erika Miller began experiencing shortness of breath while walking up the stairs at home, she chalked it up to being out of shape.

She had just had a baby six months before. But every time she exerted herself, she had to stop and catch her breath.

Soon, her shortness of breath progressed to numb fingertips.

That's when she decided to get a checkup. She was diagnosed with hypertension.

Unsure of what that meant, she did some research.

"You, of course, read everything on the internet," she said. "Where it's like, 'you've got five days to live or you've got 50 years.'"

It was a bit of a roller coaster ride.

She wondered whether the time she had with her husband and two boys would be cut short.

Dr. David Badesch, the director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, said pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure between the right side of the heart and the lungs.

He said it's a constriction of the blood vessels in the lungs that force one side of the heart to work harder and become enlarged.

"Over time it can lead to failure of the right side of the heart," he said.

"It's the one time where having a big heart doesn't necessarily mean a good thing," Miller joked while getting prepped for a procedure to test the blood pressure in her right ventricle.

Dr. Badesch said that a generation ago, PH was almost uniformly fatal, but is not considered treatable with new medications.

"The key is a prompt diagnosis, and recognition, and diagnoses and initiation of therapy in a timely manner," Dr. Badesch explained.

He said Miller had responded well to her medication.

On Friday, she underwent a right heart catheterization. A small tube was inserted into her jugular vein down to her heart to check how well it was functioning and to measure blood pressure going to her lungs.

Dr. Badesch said if Miller's pressure goes up, he can increase the dosage of her medication. He said the medicine helps open up the constricted blood vessels and helps improve flow.

The young mom will be speaking about her experience during the 11th Annual PH in the Park 5K Walk/Run fundraiser Sunday. The event, which raises money for the PH Program, gets underway with registration at 8 a.m. The actual run/walk begins at 9 a.m.