Upgraded defibrillator extends a fragile young life

  • Updated: September 14, 2013 - 7:06 PM

During her early teens, Kelly Mealman of Ramsey lived with no restrictions despite being born with heart defects that required eight surgeries to repair or replace heart valves.

Back then, Mealman would describe her condition as “a little heart murmur.” She even played on the volleyball team.

“It meant nothing,” she said of problems with her heart. “It meant go to the heart doctor once a year.”

That all changed on the day she was walking back to the house after playing with a couple of friends outside. She was struck with sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed. One friend performed CPR; the other called 911. They saved her life.

“I woke up in the hospital,” Mealman said. “I remember nothing about that day.”

Now 25, the college graduate works in market research. She and her boyfriend recently moved into a new home they had built not far from her parents in Blaine.

Mealman is excited about her future, but its fullness depends on the longevity of a small electric generator embedded near her collarbone and the durability of thin current-carrying wires that connect it to her heart. She is on her third defibrillator in 10 years. Her life is measurably less active than it once was; she is not supposed to let her heart rate go above 110 beats per minute. That means no carrying heavy objects, no running. Hills and stairs are tough. Mini-golf and walks with her boyfriend are about as hard as she can go. “He’s understanding that my pace is slower,” she said.

Mealman, who prefers not to think about her limitations, said she is happy. She would like to have kids someday. “I am going to move on with my life,” she said.

Her mom, Jeanne Kalien, accepts the full-time job of worrying about her daughter’s future. She takes Mealman to every doctor’s appointment, still tracks her procedures and medications.

“I’m grateful the technology is there, and I’m grateful the technology has improved,” Kalien said. “I just hope the technology will advance to keep up with her needs.”

Regarding her daughter’s health, she said: “I’ve learned never to take it for granted.”

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