Lorelle Lashway’s first pregnancy was relatively normal, relatively healthy — until she hit her 38th week.
“One day my blood pressure was borderline high, so I was sent for testing,” Lashway said. “I felt completely healthy. When the results came back the doctors were afraid that I would either start having seizures or have a stroke. Did I mention I felt healthy? This was a complete shock.”
At 38 weeks, Lashway, a Liverpool native, was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, a condition found in about 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies. It is diagnosed by the elevation of the expectant mother’s blood pressure usually after the 20th week of pregnancy combined with the appearance of excessive protein in her urine. Important symptoms that may suggest preeclampsia are headaches, abdominal pain, visual disturbances such as oversensitivity to light, blurred vision, seeing flashing spots or auras, shortness of breath or burning behind the sternum, nausea and vomiting, confusion or heightened state of anxiety, though some women don’t experience any physical symptoms at all; they only find out they have it when their doctors test their blood pressure and urine.
Lashway’s only symptoms were high blood pressure, excessive amounts of protein in her urine and low platelet counts. In order to protect her and her baby girl, Laelyn, labor was induced immediately, and she was started on a drug called magnesium sulfate to prevent her from seizing.
“I don’t remember much about labor and delivery or the days that followed,” Lashway said. “All I knew was that I was sick, and Laelyn was in the NICU. Not one medical professional explained what had happened to me or why. No one could explain why I still had very high blood pressure after I had the baby. I was sent home on high blood pressure medication, and told to follow up with my family doctor.”
Most women with preeclampsia will deliver a healthy baby and fully recover. However, some women will experience complications, several of which may be life-threatening to mother and/or baby. A woman’s condition can go from a mild form of preeclampsia to severe preeclampsia very quickly. Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy can be devastating diseases, made worse by delays in diagnosis or management, seriously impacting or even killing both women and their babies before, during or after birth. Some women, like Lashway, struggle with hypertension for some time after giving birth.
“It took my body over a year to stabilize and recover,” she said. “I was told that it will most likely happen again in subsequent pregnancies, and that I am now at a greater risk to develop heart disease.”
Fortunately, both Lashway and her daughter did eventually recover. Laelyn suffered no lasting effects, and Lashway went on to have another healthy pregnancy without fully developing preeclampsia symptoms.
“I know that I am one of the lucky ones,” Lashway said. “I feel so blessed, because I have seen how bad it could have been.”
Now, Lashway is committed to raising awareness for other moms and families about preeclampsia. This spring, in conjunction with the Preeclampsia Foundation, she is coordinating the first-ever Syracuse Promise Walk at Onondaga Lake Park. The walk will take place on Saturday, June 1, 2013. Registration opens to the public on Jan. 1 at promisewalk.org/Syracuse, and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.
Lashway, who has lived in South Jersey for the last five years but is moving back to the Syracuse area in January with her husband and two children, said she attended her first Promise Walk in 2011 in Cranbury, N.J.
“I drove two hours to attend,” she said. “When I learned that there was going to be a start-up walk in Cherry Hill, N.J. in May of 2012, I jumped on board as a volunteer to help get the walk off the ground. We knew that we going to be moving back to Syracuse, and I knew that this was my opportunity to make a difference. I chose Onondaga Lake Park because this is a family friendly event, and the perfect location for this walk to begin, and to grow.”
Lashway said this is a great event for the community, and one that’s incredibly important in raising awareness about an illness that has no cause, no cure, no identifying factors and can’t be prevented.
“Preeclampsia is a disease that no one really knows about until they get it, or know someone who may have had it,” she said. “Currently, there are no answers as to what causes preeclampsia, there are no definite ways to prevent it, and there is no treatment for it. By creating awareness in the community, we can not only empower women to know the symptoms and signs of preeclampsia, but to help make a difference in lives of mothers and babies.”
In order to help facilitate the walk, Lashway is seeking non-cash, in-kind donations — “everything from goodie bag items to food/ beverage donations, and items to be donated for our raffle and silent auction. We are also seeking sponsorship from local companies that would like to help moms, babies and families affected by preeclampsia.”
Lashway said the event will be family-friendly, with face painters and a balloon artists. She’s hopeful that there will be a good turnout to spread the word and help as many families as possible.
“Through my own experiences, I now feel that it my purpose to create awareness for all of the moms, babies and families that have been affected,” she said. “I not only walk for myself, but for Laelyn. More research needs to be done, and more families need to be made aware.”
For more information on preeclampsia visit the foundation website at preeclampsia.org. For more information on the walk, visit promisewalk.org/Syracuse or Facebook.com/SyracusePromiseWalkForPreeclampsia?ref=hl.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.