Widower sends warning after wife's post-partum death

- Joan Donnelly developed gestational diabetes after her first pregnancy and it never went away.

She miscarried her second baby and then developed pre-eclampsia during her third pregnancy, causing high blood pressure.

"She'd gotten very large, her ankles had swelled. You could tell that there was a fluid buildup with her and she was not sleeping comfortably," recalls husband Todd Heiden.

Unable to control her pressure, doctors delivered her son, Max early by C-section. Four days later, 43-year-old Joan collapsed at home.

"She developed difficulty breathing and essentially went into arrest right in front of me at about 12:30, one o'clock in the morning with all the kids around," says Todd.

Her death was caused by post-partum pre-eclampsia. Todd says he and his wife were never told this could happen. They thought symptoms like shortness of breath and abdominal pain were a normal part of recovery.

LINK: More would-be moms are dying, experts warn

University of South Florida maternal-fetal expert Dr. Judette Louis was not involved in Joan's care but says dismissing symptoms is common during pregnancy.

"Sometimes women don't speak up and tell they're providers that they're having these symptoms because they expect to have these symptoms," she says.

Some pregnant women who describe their symptoms may feel ignored. 

"The patients will speak up and the patients will feel that their providers sort of blow them off," Dr. Louis says.

Todd encourages couples to do their own research.

"If I can do something to number one, honor her memory, but number two make sure this doesn't happen to somebody quite the same way or raise awareness, that's my goal."

Post-partum pre-eclampsia usually begins around 48 hours after delivery but can take up to six weeks to develop. And 80 percent of women who die from it die after the baby is born.

No one knows if you can prevent it, but starting your pregnancy as healthy as possible is a good place to start.

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