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Stroke Smart Magazine

January/February 2009

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Beat the Odds
One Woman’s Triumph Over Afib

By Megan McCraken

Mellanie True Hills is very driven. In 2003, in the midst of her typical work week traveling, working more than 12 hour days seven days a week Hills’ heart gave out. Though not a full fledged heart attack, more than 95 percent of her left artery was blocked. Melanie had emergency heart surgery and almost died. After this close call, Melanie left her corporate life to get her health on track and spread the word about women and heart disease.

Seven months after her heart surgery, Hills’ heart skipped a beat, she became dizzy, her right leg grew cold and the vision in her right eye grew fuzzy. She called 911 and was rushed to the emergency room. The doctors found blood clots and said that she had a close call with stroke, due to atrial fibrillation (afib).

More episodes of afib followed, and Hills lived in fear. She never knew when the next incident would take place. Would she be out walking or driving alone? Would she be able to get help? Would she have a stroke? She always carried a cell phone and afib medicine. She was worried even just walking out to the mailbox. Her family was greatly concerned with Hills’ health and wouldn’t let her out of their sight.

Trying to stay away from surgery, Hills had many discussions with her doctor and tried several different medications. But she finally decided to have a minimally-invasive Mini-Maze surgery. The surgery eliminated her afib.

Through the surgery, Mellanie got her life back. She praises all those who made this surgery possible because they restored her life and freedom. Would she do it again? In a heart beat.

How to Recognize and Control Afib

Atrial fibrillation (afib) is an irregular heartbeat, a rapid heartbeat or a quivering of the upper chambers of the heart. Irregular heartbeat can cause blood to collect in the heart and clot. This increases the risk of stroke. Afib causes about 15 percent of all strokes, and strokes caused by afib tend to be more severe.


  • A skipped heartbeat or a thud followed by a racing heart.
  • Fluttering, or jumping of the heart.
  • sweating or chest pain, similar to a heart attack.
  • Unsettled or weak pulse.
  • Dizziness, weakness, tiredness or shortness of breath.

Contact your doctor if you have had any of these symptoms, and ask about afib.

You can check your own pulse monthly to detect any irregular rhythms. Clinically, Afib is diagnosed by a simple electrocardiogram, or ekg. it is painless and takes just a few minutes.

Treatment and Control

  • Drugs — there are two common types of drugs used to treat afib, a rate control drug and a rhythm control drug. The rate control drug slows the heart rate and is given with a blood thinner to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke. The rhythm control drug restores the normal heartbeat.
  • Electrical shocks — a small electric jolt shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm.
  • Catheter ablation — a method to remove a faulty electrical pathway from the heart using catheters and electronic pulses.
  • Surgery (surgical ablation) a procedure that destroys specific areas of cardiac tissue usually done when thepatient is already having open-heart surgery.

For more information on the types of treatment, risks and success rates, check with your doctor or visit http://www.stopafib.org/.


StopAfib.org is a patient-to-patient resource to support afib patients and their families.

What’s on StopAfib.org:

  • What afib is and why it is a problem.
  • The symptoms and diagnosis for afib.
  • Treatments for and the management of afib.
  • Resources and services.
  • Afib news, events and patient stories.
  • New discussion forums, community tools and social media tools.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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