“Dr. Gagnon knew exactly what I needed and she saved my life. She was so wonderful and accommodating. She saved my life and then changed my life,” Courtney explains of the care she received from the Women’s Mental Health Clinic.
Five months after giving birth to her beautiful daughter, Courtney found herself taking her husband’s car and driving to BC without anyone knowing where she was. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was experiencing a depressive episode with postpartum psychosis, and had been suffering from the condition since the birth of her child. Courtney was at risk of harming herself, and it had become clear that she needed care from the Women’s Mental Health Clinic.
Courtney had a normal pregnancy with little concern of postpartum depression. She was induced 11 days past her due date. It was 27-hours of labour with multiple complications before her daughter was born unresponsive. After ten long and agonizing minutes of resuscitation, her daughter was revived and would see no long term health effects from the experience.
Courtney’s postpartum symptoms started right away following this traumatic event. Like many new mothers, she was anxious and had trouble sleeping while her new baby slept. But her symptoms went far beyond that. While she was still in the hospital and holding her daughter, there was an incident when she started seeing everything on her daughter’s face turning black. When she pressed the emergency button to call the nurses, they assured her that there was nothing wrong with her child. She had been hallucinating.
After Courtney was discharged, her insomnia continued. She was still able to lovingly care for her daughter, but from lack of sleep she started getting confused by simple tasks she would have easily done in the past; like following a recipe. Being a Nurse Practitioner, she tried to diagnose herself and also seek outside help, but health care professionals had a difficult time diagnosing her and she started to believe that no one would be able to help her. She had three serious suicide attempts and two brief hospital stays but was still not getting better.
Things got so serious that Courtney required 24/7 watch by her family because she was such a danger to herself. Finally, she was referred to the Women’s Mental Health Clinic under the care of Dr. Zahra Mohamed. Dr. Mohamed was very concerned for Courtney and, as she didn’t work as an inpatient Psychiatrist, she referred Courtney to a colleague within the clinic – Dr. Lisa Gagnon. After a thirty minute assessment Dr. Lisa Gagnon knew exactly what was wrong and admitted Courtney directly to the Foothills hospital under her care to start the treatment that would save Courtney’s life. Part of that treatment was a careful balance of medication for her condition and seven courses of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).
After Courtney’s first treatment of ECT, she called her husband and he could immediately hear a difference in her voice. “Courtney’s back,” he said.
Although the journey has been difficult, there have been silver linings along the way, including the support she received from family and friends. “It meant so much getting text messages from friends telling me to hang in there,” Courtney tells us. “When I was hospitalized, my nearly 80-year-old father would get himself to the hospital every day to play cards and keep me company. And of course my husband was there every step of the way.” She is also incredibly grateful for the care received by the Women’s Mental Health Clinic and Drs. Zahra Mohamed and Lisa Gagnon.
Courtney sought a consult from Dr. Gagnon prior to conceiving and she felt it helped give her the courage to have a second child. She became pregnant last April. “I was so scared I was going to get sick again. The memories I had of when I was sick the first time came raging back. I remembered things about my suicide attempts that I thought I’d locked away forever. It was at this point Dr. Gagnon really became concerned about me and we got serious about my treatment.” Courtney, her family, the Obstetrical team and the Women’s Mental Health Clinic were able to work together so that the second time they welcomed an infant home, it was a much more positive experience for Courtney.
Courtney now has two beautiful children, Adeline and Violet, and tells her story to help others. Thanks to support from the Run for Women, the Women’s Mental Health Clinic has been able to serve 100 additional patients and their families, like Courtney’s, in the last year.
When it comes to making a difference in the health of Albertans, every little bit has the potential to make a big impact – and it’s never been easier.