A sad Facebook birth story

The Washington Post is carrying a remarkable birth story today by Ian Shapira, called "A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow."

Shapira has shaped the story using the Facebook postings of Shana Greatman Swers, a 35-year-old Gaithersburg, Md., consultant who died just weeks after the birth of her son, Isaac Lawrence Swers, on Sept. 23 of this year.

Within days of Isaac's birth, Swers was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare, grave heart disease associated with childbirth.

In a "Story Lab" blog post, and in a live Q&A chat, Shapira describes how he came to write about a colleague of his wife's, a woman who, he writes, not only died from "unusual pregnancy complications," but also "had been remarkably public about her ordeal" in her Facebook postings, some of them sent from her iPhone at the hospital.

Shapira determined to tell Swers' story through selected postings from her Facebook page, beginning with her proud announcement of her pregnancy on March 10, and continuing until her death.

What emerges is a picture of a first-time mom reveling in impending motherhood, then reacting with concern and frustration at the unexpected medical problems, responding to friends' good wishes and offers of food and other help.

At one point, her husband, Jeffrey, asked friends to "post a memory or funny story that lets her know why she is special to you," and began himself with the story of their first Fourth of July together.

It seems impossible to believe, reading the posts, that Swers' condition would not improve, that the last post in the story, from Nov. 3, would be her husband's anguished cry: "I love you wifey wife, I love you, I love you, a million times over I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Shapira's story, and the Facebook page itself, are compelling artifacts of our times.

The heart of the matter

The circulatory system is all about distributing oxygen around the body. The mighty heart — which never rests as long as we live — the 60,000 miles worth of blood vessels, and blood itself, all come down to this: Every cell in our bodies needs a fresh supply of oxygen every few minutes, or it will die. And so will we.

Diagram of the human heart

The human heart

The heart is at the center of the circulatory system, a hollow organ composed of muscle and connective tissue. In humans, the heart has four chambers — two atria or "entrances," and two ventricles or "bellies" — and weighs less than a pound.

The heart beats optimally about 70 times a minute throughout our lives, beginning within three weeks after conception, for a total of about 3 billion pulses in a lifetime of  80 years.

The heart pumps blood to the lungs, where it picks up its cargo of oxygen, and then on to the rest of the body.  Valves in the heart and the blood vessels ensure that blood travels in one direction only, away from the heart in the arteries, and toward the heart in the veins.

Red blood cells travel single-file through the capillaries, the fine vessels that connect the arteries and the veins, to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the cells. Here the blood takes on waste, especially carbon dioxide, which it will deposit in the lungs for expulsion into the air.

A septum in the middle of heart keeps waste-filled blood returning from its journey through the body separate from oxygenated blood fresh the lungs.

Here in the heart, over and over, the journey begins again.

Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org