Hollie Sassienie tells Caron Kemp about how coping with a life-threatening illness led to a determination to help new mums. [divider]
When Hollie Sassienie looks at her daughter Gabriella, the Radlett resident knows she’s not just lucky to be a mother – but lucky to be alive.
For while pregnant with her first child, the 32-year-old was unknowingly suffering from a rare and life-threatening condition. When she was just 16 weeks into pregnancy, Hollie fainted after feeling breathless from going downstairs too fast but dismissed it, thinking her symptoms were related to her asthma.
At 19 weeks pregnant, when Hollie and filmmaker husband Darren travelled to the Caribbean and she felt increasingly tired and short of breath, the couple again brushed it off as little more than pregnancy and asthma-related. But Hollie’s health continued to deteriorate.
“I had to rest more often during the day and if I were going up the stairs I would have to stop half way,” she recalls. “By 27 weeks pregnant I was basically confined to my bed all day. I did keep saying I felt like something wasn’t right but no-one seemed overly concerned, so I didn’t worry.”
Then Hollie collapsed twice in one day and things began to take a dramatic turn. “Darren was so frightened he called an ambulance for me,” she explains. “I had a host of tests in hospital, but mainly they were on the baby and they all came back ok, so I was sent home.”
“Two days after being discharged I was feeling faint and nauseous, so my doctor suggested I speak to my obstetrician. She in turn sent me to a cardiologist just to be safe. Again I had a lot of tests. I knew something wasn’t right, but I never thought it would be something serious.”
However, specialists were already preparing Hollie’s family for the worst. That evening she was rushed from Bushey Spire Hospital to a specialist unit at Hammersmith Hospital and her loved ones were told her life hung in the balance.
Hollie was diagnosed with a rare disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension, a serious medical condition that hardens the arteries from the lungs to the heart. It is particularly dangerous in pregnancy, with a 50 percent mortality rate.
“It was a very scary time, but I had been feeling so dreadful for so long all I could think about was getting into bed and feeling well,” Hollie admits. “In a way I felt relieved someone was finally able to diagnose my symptoms and do something about it.”
But Hollie was in grave danger. With her heart now doubled in size, she was fed a concoction of drugs intravenously as doctors waited nervously to see how her body would react. A few weeks into Hollie’s hospital stay, Gabriella was delivered during a precarious five-hour caesarean operation. She weighed 5lb 2oz.
“I was told beforehand to get my affairs in order in case I didn’t survive the procedure,” Hollie explains. “I was so worried something would happen to me and I would leave Darren with a new baby. I knew other women with the condition had died a few days after delivery, so there was no real sense of relief after Gabriella was born.”
In fact, while Gabriella was taken to nearby Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, Hollie was transferred to the intensive care unit where she spent the next ten days.
“That was undoubtedly the hardest time for me,” she admits. “I was the only person there not ventilated. It was horrible and made me very lonely and emotional. I just wanted to be at home bonding with my baby, not lying without her in a hospital and worried she wouldn’t even recognise me.”
Forced to learn to walk again and still requiring a barrage of medication to be pumped daily directly into her heart, Hollie was nevertheless sent home to be with her new family in May 2012. Despite still sometimes suffering debilitating breathlessness and faced with a lifetime of taking medication, Hollie and her husband of 11 years decided to do something to help others with the condition.
“While I was in hospital, some friends brought a box of gifts they had selected for me and Gabriella to enjoy once we were home,” she recalls. “I found it difficult to get out and about with Gabriella, but wanted my baby to have the best products on the market. So the idea of Sassy Bloom was born.”
The company supplies monthly boxes filled with practical and stylish gifts for mums and babies, from plush teddies to beauty products and the latest children’s books, toys and clothing. Sassy Bloom has attracted a host of supportive tweets from celebrity fans, including Peter Andre, Kerry Katona and Nell McAndrew, and Darren and Hollie hope as their business continues to grow they will be able to raise £100,000 for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.
Hollie’s life expectancy is not known, but with increasing medical research into her condition she remains positive. “I try not to think about it too much, because at the moment I feel well,” she admits. “Obviously I think about not being around to see Gabriella get married and have kids, but I try to stay positive that a cure will be found.”
“It has certainly taught us not to take each other for granted. We have a great partnership, a beautiful daughter and a new, exciting business. “Every day we look at each other and realise just how lucky we are.”
•For more information, visit www.sassybloom.com