Mellanie discusses how she discovered she suffered from atrial fibrillation and how it has affected her life.
My atrial fibrillation came just a few hours after getting off of a plane. I was sitting in my home office pulling email and all of a sudden my heart skipped some beats and then started racing, and I got dizzy and thought I was going to pass out. I knew I had to go lay down. So got up to go over to the sofa, I called out to my husband that I was not feeling well. He came rushing over with the blood pressure cuff to check my blood pressure.
Well, it was warm weather so I was wearing shorts and he happened to notice that my right leg looked different from my left leg. My right leg was as white and as cold as snow. And I realized that I had fuzziness in my right eye. I wasn’t sure what was going on so we called the doctor and the doctor said, “You need to get to the emergency room.”
We lived in the country and we knew by the time they found us, it would take quite a while and so my husband rushed me to the emergency room where they said I had had a blood clot or maybe it was multiple clots, perhaps a clot that had split, and that I had had a near stroke and it was due to this condition called atrial fibrillation – I had never heard of it. But I soon learned that it’s not a one-time thing.
A few days later I was out walking the dog and we were probably half a mile from home and all of a sudden my heart skipped some beats and started racing and I could look down at my heart rate monitor which I always wore when I would go out to walk, and it went racing up to 300 beats a minute. I grabbed my cellphone, I called my husband, said, “Come, get me before I have a stroke.”
It seemed like it took forever for him to get there. It probably was a minute or two but it seemed like hours, and when I got home I took a beta-blocker. My doctor had given me a beta-blocker and said, “If you need to take extras.” I took a beta-blocker and my A-fib went away. But from that point forward I never went anywhere without my cellphone and my beta-blocker, even if I was just walking out to the mailbox out at the road, I always had my beta-blocker with me.
I felt like I was a stroke walking around waiting to happen and my family was scared to let me go anywhere by myself. So they went everywhere with me - when I went to meetings, when I went to the grocery store, when I needed to go out of town to do speeches, they went with me, in the motor home. And we always planned our routes such that I knew every hospital along the way and my husband did, too.
It was always with the atrial fibrillation being top of mind always having to have a contingency plan based on that atrial fibrillation. And you know I was never stable on the Coumadin. I was given Coumadin in order to avoid blood clots and the stroke but I was never stable on it. I would ping-pong from blood that was too thick, with a risk of clots, to blood that was too thin with a risk of bleeding to death.
And because I was ping-ponging so frequently I couldn’t go two weeks or four weeks between blood draws. I had to go weekly, sometimes twice a week just to check and see what my blood thickness was or thinness. Oh, and by the way, when you are on Coumadin you can’t use kitchen knives. You can’t do your hard work, can’t even shave your legs. It changes everything.
So others had to help me in the kitchen and then there were the bruises. When you are on Coumadin and your blood is too thin, it can leak from the blood vessels. You don’t even have to bump into something to get bruised. It just leaks through out of blood vessels.
And so I turned black, blue and purple all over – all over my arms, my legs, my torso, even my face. You haven’t lived until you have tried to cover up black, blue and purple all over your face to get on stage to speak with one of those big iMac screens that’s going to project your face, you know, extremely high and enlarged. I went through Dermablend® by the pot load just to cover up the bruises.
So I knew that I couldn’t do that forever and in the summer of 2005 a study came out that said about a fourth of Coumadin patients are not stable on Coumadin for genetic reasons. There’s certain genes that impact your metabolism with the Coumadin, and my doctor and I realized that was what was going on with me because I managed to control my diet, they say, “All you have to do is eat right and you will be stable on Coumadin” – that wasn’t the case with me. Obviously it was genetic.
So I knew that at the age of 52-53 I couldn’t live that nightmare the rest of my life. I had to do something and that’s when I discovered that there was a surgery – a new surgery being done that could potentially eliminate my stroke risk. So I checked it out. My doctor referred me to a surgeon. I had a consultation and 10 days later I was in surgery and I have been A-fib free ever since.
And three months after that surgery I came off the Coumadin on December 24 – best Christmas present I ever could have gotten. A-fib totally changed my life but having the surgery gave me my life back and has enabled me to share what I have learned with others so hopefully they don’t have to go through the pain that I went through. And hopefully, through the knowledge that I have gained in the research that I do we can wipe out strokes caused by A-fib and we can improve the quality of life of those who have it.
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