All Heart: GIS Project Manager Lindsay Thomas Pushes Advocacy Following Cardiac Failure

All Heart: GIS Project Manager Lindsay Thomas Pushes Advocacy Following Cardiac Failure

Lindsay Thomas is a tower of strength.

She’s a Project Manager and GIS Specialist at WithersRavenel, a go-to worker in a busy department. A lifelong athlete who played Division I sports. A wife and mother of 6-year-old twin boys (who love joining video calls). A leader in professional organizations, and the creator of WithersRavenel’s company yoga program and a backer of our health initiatives.

And, after an extreme health scare following birth of her twins, she’s happy to add heart health advocacy to her full plate. Lindsay wants to increase the chances that what happened to her doesn’t happen to any other new mothers and mothers-to-be. Her story is timely, as Feb. 5 is National Wear Red Day to bring attention to heart disease.

Looking back on heart failure

Fitness is a big part of Lindsay’s life, and during the first trimester of her pregnancy in 2014, she was still running. But as her pregnancy went on and then shortly after giving birth, she had symptoms which in hindsight were warning lights: extreme swelling throughout the body, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing when lying down, heart-racing anxiety.

One week after giving birth, when she expected to be home with her baby boys, she was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit. The diagnosis was Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM).

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “PPCM is a rare form of congestive heart failure that is associated with pregnancy. The condition has not been linked to any other condition or cause. Most times, PPCM occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy or the first month after delivery.” Being pregnant with multiples is a risk factor.

Lindsay said a lot of the symptoms she had right after birth were brushed off as “normal postpartum stuff.” But taken together, they were PPCM.

With her boys’ December birth during flu season, Lindsay’s stay in ICU was very isolated. Her babies were not allowed to come to the hospital. Her husband, Scott, would take care of the babies at night, then pass them off to his mother for a few hours to go to the hospital and be with Lindsay.

“I did not know if I would see them again,” she said of her newborn boys. Additionally, information online and elsewhere about PPCM was limited at the time.

Almost unbelievably, she lost about 65 pounds in 10 days after childbirth. Diuretics helped to eliminate the swelling and water weight throughout her body. A peculiar aspect of the weight loss: the swelling disappeared from her upper arms before doing so in her lower arms, leading her husband to call her “Popeye.”

After about a week, Lindsay was able to go home (after begging her doctor, who wanted to keep her a few days longer). She spent the next several weeks in and out of doctors’ office at a time which she hoped would be focused on her babies.

“Most new parents worry about baby appointments, not Mom’s,” she said. Many hours at cardiologist appointments, frequent blood pressure checks, medication adjustments, and a slow return to health followed for Lindsay. It was accompanied by a growing determination to get the word out about PPCM.

Lindsay Thomas: Health Advocate

A year after the birth of her twins, Lindsay was given a clean bill of health. She began running again, working toward more exercise and a return to the fit lifestyle she craves and loves. Less than 18 months after her initial diagnosis, she ran her first post-heart failure 5K race.

Lindsay also jumped into advocacy, primarily as part of an online pair known as the Cardiac Moms.

Lindsay Thomas and Shirley Polk spread their message about PPCM and heart health on Instagram and Facebook, while also leading fundraising efforts to benefit the American Heart Association. Their social feeds are filled with information not only about PPCM and heart health, but also fitness, healthy eating tips, and loads of encouragement and inspiration.

They met through Lindsay’s advocacy following a WRAL news piece at The American Heart Association of NC’s heart walk. Shirley thought she had PPCM symptoms before childbirth, but her cardiologist brushed them off. Shirley did have PPCM, and her experience was nearly fatal: she flatlined twice after childbirth. (Her cardiologist was rightfully apologetic afterward – unfortunately, PPCM is often misdiagnosed.) Today, Shirley is an avid cyclist and Lindsay’s partner in friendship, advocacy and healthy living.

“We want to show people, even when you have a diagnosis of heart disease, you can live a healthy life after,” Lindsay said.

Two big focuses of Cardiac Moms’ current advocacy: One, getting the word out that cardiovascular disease is not only the leading cause of death in women, but that it is also the leading killer of new mothers, with heart failure being the top cause. Women and new mothers need to put heart health front and center in their lives.

And two, Lindsay and Shirley are part of a push for a simple blood test during pregnancy that could point toward PPCM for mothers-to-be.

“It’s completely treatable if it’s caught early enough,” Lindsay said. An inexpensive blood test called a BNP could alert doctors to protein levels that could provide a clearer path to PPCM diagnosis, potentially preventing short- or long-term heart damage and saving mothers’ lives.

A love of family, work, life

Lindsay loves the variety of her job, interacting with clients and training them on GIS software and systems. After 14 years at WithersRavenel, she still brings positivity and a spirit to work each day.

She loves being outside, especially with her family. Hiking, gardening, raising chickens, which her boys really enjoy.

She loves to run and compete, often taking off on lunch breaks (pre-pandemic) to log a few miles with co-workers. When she tells you about the WithersRavenel team being the three-time defending champs of Fuquay-Varina’s Corporate Challenge 5K, there’s a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. It’s easy to picture her running someone down on the course. To see her kicking tail in college field hockey. To see her pushing her boys to be their best selves.

But what else can you see in Lindsay? A strong survivor who wants you to champion your own health.

“You should be your own health advocate, not just for heart disease,” she said. “If you don’t feel like something is right, speak up. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.”

Want to connect with Lindsay Thomas and the Cardiac Moms? Click here for the duo’s Instagram page. Here for their Facebook page. Click here to join their fundraising team for the Cardiac Moms Race with Heart: Virtual Walk, Run, Cycle. And click here for a link to Cardiac Moms’ Women of Impact campaign page.