Profile of Atrial Fibrillation Patient Mellanie True Hills, Founder of StopAfib.org
June 08, 2009 7:21 AM CT
Having never heard of atrial fibrillation, Mellanie True Hills was surprised one day, at the age of 51, to find that this progressive heart disease would change her life forever.
A successful executive, motivational speaker, Internet pioneer and published author, Mellanie had a dream career requiring constant air travel and cross-country trips. Her career demanded a high-energy personality and an independent streak, and she was suited for it perfectly.
Then, after experiencing chest pains, she learned that she had a 95 percent blockage in a major heart artery and almost died during the emergency procedure to unblock it. Despite major efforts to change her lifestyle after her recovery, only seven months later, Mellanie learned that she didn’t have as much control as she’d thought.
“One morning I became dizzy and lightheaded, and my heart was racing uncontrollably. My vision blurred, and my husband noticed that one of my legs was just as cold and white as snow,” says Mellanie.
After being rushed once more to the emergency room, the cardiologist found blood clots that had nearly caused a stroke. The cause: atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AFib or AF).
AFib is a heart rhythm disturbance in which the upper chambers of the heart beat in a rapid, uncoordinated and disorganized fashion, resulting in a very irregular and frequently fast heart rate. It occurs when the heart’s two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. When the blood is not completely pumped out of these heart chambers, it can pool and clot, which can lead to stroke.
Mellanie’s first reaction was to learn as much as she could about the condition, but at the time resources and educational materials for patients were scarce. She states, “I was amazed I had this terrifying condition that affects over two and a half million people in the U.S., and yet I couldn’t find much information to help.”
After experiencing an AFib episode while walking her dog, Mellanie’s doctor prescribed a beta blocker to slow her heart rate and a blood thinner to reduce her risk of stroke. From that moment on, Mellanie made sure she never left the house without her medications and a cell phone. But despite her efforts, she was distressed to see the impact on her life and her family.
“I just felt like my wings had been clipped,” she remembers. “Until you have experienced AFib, you can’t believe the emotional, physical and financial toll of this disease. And often you can’t explain it to anyone – sometimes not even to your doctor.”
As though that wasn’t enough, Mellanie rearranged her schedule to accommodate weekly blood draws to measure her blood counts and ensure that her blood thinning medications had her at a safe level so that she was not at risk for blood clots or excessive bleeding.
“There was a silver lining with these weekly visits,” says Mellanie. “I worked so closely with the folks at the clinic that we became friends.”
Almost four years ago, Mellanie was finally able to work with her doctor to find a surgical procedure that led to better control of her AFib.
“The management of AFib is complex and highly personalized. It is important for each patient to work closely with his or her doctor to find the most appropriate treatment based on their specific needs,” states Mellanie.
Since then, she has regained her independence, and is happy to report that she is as active as ever. In her efforts to support others, she started her own patient group, StopAfib.org, which is dedicated to providing much needed consumer resources, background information and relevant news about atrial fibrillation. Once again, she has taken to the road, this time to give educational talks and meet with other people living with AFib.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to travel the country and help others,” Mellanie says. “Whenever you meet someone newly diagnosed with AFib, they always have a feeling that this could be the end of their world. Many people don’t understand the condition, and it’s so easy to feel completely overwhelmed by it.”
“However, patients need to realize that they are not alone, and that with all of the medical advances today, there is hope. That’s my goal: to reach a point where people are confident that they can manage AFib and still live a full and productive life,” concludes Mellanie.
AF Stat™: A Call to Action for Atrial Fibrillation is an initiative sponsored by sanofi-aventis U.S. LLC
Download Afib Patient Profile — Mellanie True Hills