Gladis C A Successful Pregnancy After Heart Transplant

“With the heart transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, they opened up a new life for me. Now I feel normal, and that makes me feel that I can do anything.”

Gladis Cuadros, 36, speaks in a soft, musical voice that paints even the most serious subjects with a sunny gloss—which doesn’t mean she shrinks from addressing tough topics. When she met Gilmer Zavaleta, the man she married in 2017, she told him up front that “if you want a family, I’m not the right person for you.”

Gladis was born with a condition called cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart disease that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood. The disease took her father’s life in his early 30s and might have taken hers as well, if not for the intervention of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center's Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Program's special medical team. The program is one of only a dozen centers in the nation that has performed more than 1,100 heart transplants and is ranked among the top 15 programs in the country.

At just 15, while still living in her native Colombia, Gladis began suffering dizziness and chest pain. Not long afterward, her mother moved with her to the U.S. seeking the best medical care. When Gladis was 18, she says, her doctors told her that her heart would likely never be strong enough to support a pregnancy. For the first time, they also raised the possibility that she might need a heart transplant.

By the age of 25, Gladis had given up her hopes of motherhood. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to be a mom,’ so I put that idea away,” she says.

That was also the year she aged out of the pediatric cardiac program she’d been in and began to receive her cardiac care at NBI. Her treatment went well for some time. But within five years, the medication that was keeping her alive was losing its effectiveness.

The Wait Begins

In May 2015, Gladis, now age 30, was put on the heart transplant waiting list. That July, too ill to remain at home while she waited for a donor heart, she was admitted to NBI’s Cardiac Critical Care Unit, where she remained for three months.

To keep busy, she crafted jewelry, hats and purses. “I wasn’t afraid,” she says. “I believe in God, and I had faith that whatever happened to me would be for the best.”

In October, a donor heart became available, and she underwent a successful heart transplant. “The people on the transplant team were the best,” she says, “from the people who cleaned the room to the nurses and the doctors.”

She handed out her crafts to the team as gifts.

With her new heart came new hope.

In April 2019, she consulted with Newark Beth Israel Medical Center's heart transplant team about the possibility of having a baby.

“I thought it was completely OK for her to try, especially since she’d be carefully monitored by the OB/GYN team and by us,” says Natalia Hochbaum, MD, a cardiology and advanced heart failure and transplant specialist at NBI.

Gladis began to see Martin Gimovsky, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at NBI, who’d recently helped another heart transplant patient through a successful pregnancy.

There were risks to be managed. “We were concerned about preeclampsia and very high blood pressure, which is more common in heart transplant patients,” says Dr. Gimovsky. “We were also concerned about heart failure. Pregnancy puts a lot of stress on the heart and the entire cardiovascular system.”

It was also critical that they monitor the level of the immunosuppressant medication Gladis was taking to keep her body from rejecting the donor heart, since low levels could indicate imminent rejection. Fortunately, her immunosuppressant levels remained steady and she never developed preeclampsia.

A New Life

The risk no one could have foreseen, however, was that her delivery date, in May 2020, would coincide with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey. Because she was immunosuppressed, she faced a greater risk of contracting the virus and developing serious complications.

“She received every precaution we could take to ensure the least amount of risk,” says Dr. Gimovsky. “I even pushed during labor while wearing a mask,” Gladis notes.

The delivery went well and her daughter, Natalia, was born completely healthy. After delivery, Gladis spent four days in a newly renovated postpartum suite at NBI with Natalia and her husband.

Gladis still wasn’t completely out of the woods. “Women with significant cardiovascular disease are at great risk after the delivery,” Dr. Gimovsky notes, “but Gladis was monitored very closely in the hospital to make sure she didn’t develop symptoms that might indicate heart failure.” She never did.

“Gladis was very committed to having a healthy baby, and she did her best to stay healthy. Now they’re both doing great,” says Dr. Hochbaum.

The new mom knows it was the care she got at NBI that helped ensure that outcome. “With the transplant,” she says, “they opened up a new life for me. Now I feel normal, and that makes me feel that I can do anything.”

As for baby Natalia?

Says Gladis, “She smiles all the time.”

Learn more about heart transplant services or maternity care at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, contact us or call (973) 926-7000.