Pregnant heart surgery patient urges health screenings

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 24, 2019

 Tiffany Polisena, from Sterling Heights, underwent heart surgery  in 2016 while pregnant with her son Dylan.

Tiffany Polisena, from Sterling Heights, underwent heart surgery in 2016 while pregnant with her son Dylan.

Photo provided by Tiffany Polisena


STERLING HEIGHTS — Pregnancy is a joyous time of expectation. But Sterling Heights resident Tiffany Polisena discovered a terrifying surprise soon after she became pregnant with her second child in 2016.

A severe, hidden heart condition emerged, putting her life at risk.

“I was getting shortness of breath all the time and I was really, really tired, and I just kind of felt like something wasn’t right, so I went to my doctor,” she said.

Polisena was told to go to the emergency room, so at 17 weeks pregnant, she went. That’s when she learned that her heart was in a dangerous situation.

“My aortic valve was bad and was in immediate need of replacement,” she said. “When I found that out, I was just devastated. I was scared and just thinking, ‘How was this happening now?’”

Meanwhile, at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, it took a team of doctors around two or three weeks to figure out what to do, Polisena said. She said they initially didn’t want to do open-heart surgery because there was an estimated 30% chance the baby wouldn’t survive.

“It was a risk, but I had to take it,” she said. “Even a week prior, I went into cardiac arrest.”

She said the hospital performed her open-heart surgery when she was 20 weeks pregnant, placing a mechanical valve in her and giving her a double bypass. Her son, Dylan, survived.

Today, Polisena, 38, believes it’s important to spread awareness about heart health and pregnancy. She urges women to get health screenings, adding that she wonders if doctors would have found anything had they screened her in 2011, when she had her first son.

According to Beaumont Health, the biggest cause of death during and just after pregnancy is cardiovascular disease, and the disease reportedly plays a role in between 1% and 4% of an estimated 4 million annual U.S. pregnancies. As a result, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reportedly wants screenings for patients.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Kurt Wharton, the medical director of the Family Birth Center at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, cautioned women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to consider factors such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“You want to be as healthy as possible, even before you conceive, but definitely by the time you conceive,” he said.

He recommended staying at an optimal weight, preventing or controlling diabetes, paying close attention to blood pressure, and getting early prenatal care.

He said obesity, diabetes and hypertension can put a strain on the heart, and so can pregnancy itself.

“By the seventh week of pregnancy, the amount of blood circulating through the body is increasing by 40 percent,” he said.

Find out more about Beaumont Health by visiting