BOSTON (CBS) – Imagine being told the symptoms you assumed were just related to pregnancy were, in fact, due to a life-threatening heart condition. That’s exactly what happened to a young mother in Maine whose sheer grit got her through her harrowing ordeal.

Three years ago, the future was nothing but bright for 30-year-old Tiffany Dunn. Studying social work at the University of Southern Maine, she and her husband were expecting their first child.

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Tiffany had developed typical symptoms of pregnancy, swollen ankles and fatigue, but by the time she was 34 weeks along, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I started having shortness of breath, and it got really bad,” she explained.

Tiffany went to the hospital where she was told the unimaginable. She was in heart failure. She was shocked. “I was not expecting that at all.”

The diagnosis was peripartum cardiomyopathy, an uncommon complication of pregnancy. The heart muscle becomes weak and can’t pump blood effectively. In many cases, the condition improves once the baby is delivered, so Tiffany underwent an urgent C-section.

“I realized I must be pretty sick for them to want to take her so early,” Tiffany said.

Fortunately, despite a short stay in the NICU, her daughter Isla, did well and is now a robust and healthy 3-year-old.

But instead of improving, Tiffany’s condition continued to worsen. Eight months later, while sitting at home with her daughter and mother-in-law, she suffered a stroke.

“[My mother-in-law] said, ‘Can you speak or no?’ and I just shook my head,” Tiffany recalled with tears in her eyes. “It was scary, yeah.”

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By then, Tiffany needed a mechanical heart pump called an LVAD, and her care was transferred from Maine to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she was put on the transplant list.

Six months later, after the stroke, a dangerous infection, and disappointment over a donor heart that turned out not to be a good match, she finally received a heart transplant in March of this year.

“I feel lucky despite everything that’s happened – or because of everything that’s happened – that I’m doing well,” she said.

And Tiffany still managed to graduate from college on time.

Dr. Michael Kiernan is Tiffany’s heart transplant physician at Tufts Medical Center.

“You can imagine easily becoming depressed when you are a 33-year-old woman with a young family where you’re being dealt a hand, now living on artificial life support, and now you need a transplant and you’ve had a stroke and to retain the optimism and the courage to continue to fight through; that is just… that’s why we do what we do,” said Dr. Kiernan.

As for her daughter, Isla, Tiffany has no regrets.

“This whole process kind of started with her,” Tiffany said. “And I wouldn’t change anything. I’m so grateful that I’m her mom.”

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Tiffany and her husband are currently writing a children’s book to share their experience and hopefully help other families who may be going through a similar ordeal.

Dr. Mallika Marshall