Melanie Tredik has learned over the years how to live in spite of medical trauma. In 1981, when Melanie was 14, her family doctor thought she had mono. A blood test and biopsy of the lymph nodes in her neck revealed cancer. The only thing she remembered were the words, Hodgkin’s disease.
Melanie’s mom drove her to Chicago for six weeks that summer to receive post-mantle radiation treatments = radiation to her tumors in the middle of her chest. “It was a horrific summer,” she says. At the end of treatment, tests revealed that she was in remission. The cancer returned in her senior year and she received six months of IV chemotherapy with prednisone treatment. She has been cancer free since 1985, but Melanie was physically and emotionally scarred because of the trauma of two battles with cancer.
Twenty years later, at age 34, Melanie experienced another traumatic event. While attending massage school, her boyfriend Bob heard gurgling in her lungs one evening. Melanie dismissed the symptoms, thinking it was allergies. Meanwhile, Melanie’s homeopathic doctor was treating her for nighttime reflux asthma with steroidal inhalers because she was experiencing shortness of breath. Melanie had to sleep propped upright in bed with pillows due to the inability to breath. The dizzy spells started and increased in frequency, and her breathing was getting worse at night.
One night at Bob’s house, Melanie was having severe shortness of breath and tried two doses of the bronchial dilator without success. Melanie called the on-call nurse and was told to go to the ER. Bob rushed her to the hospital. “I was pounding the door of the car gasping for air,” she describes.
After oxygen and breathing treatments, a chest X-ray revealed congestive heart failure. Later, an echocardiogram showed severe mitral regurgitation and moderate aortic regurgitation. “Bob and I were both in shock and very frightened”, she says.
After different conflicting ultrasounds, and a trans-esophageal echocardiogram, her cardiologist performed a cardiac catheterization. Melanie learned that she had radiation damage to her heart and needed major heart surgery. Her local heart surgeon stated the need for possibly two valve repairs or replacements, and a triple bypass. However, he indicated that two valve replacements would be too complex a surgery for her damaged heart.
Prior to the appointment with Melanie’s cardiac surgeon, Bob spent countless hours researching radiation heart and found the article “100 Best Heart Hospitals” in U.S. News & World Report. Cleveland Clinic was ranked No. 1. Bob asked Melanie’s surgeon about the Cleveland Clinic’s cardiac surgeons and he said, “No doubt, they are the Jimmy Conner and John McEnroes of heart surgery.” The decision was made. Bob said, “Pack your bags, we’re going to Cleveland.”
The couple flew to Cleveland in February of 2003. Dr. Garcia, Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, indicated that due to the significant radiation damage, that aortic/mitral mechanical valve replacement was the only safe option for long-term viability of the heart. At this time, Melanie learned she would be on Coumadin (a blood thinner) for the rest of her life and that having children on Coumadin would be very dangerous during pregnancy. Dr. Garcia recommended against having children due to the danger—another emotional trauma.
Melanie’s brother flew in for the surgery and they ate a steak dinner that night, trying to keep the mood light. “I remember being rolled down the hallway the next morning on a gurney looking back at my Bob and my brother and just waved,” she says. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to see them again.”
Gosta Pettersson, MD, vice chair of the department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute successfully performed the complicated surgery. After recovering for six days, she returned home to start the lengthy physical and emotional healing process.
Tredik has continued cardiac rehab in Florida three times a week since 2003. Melanie and Bob married in 2008, and she says after a lifetime of medical trauma she is pulling the pieces of her life back together. Being physically well is one thing, but confronting the emotional stress requires a lot of support. “How do you go back living your life as if nothing ever happened?” Tredik asks. “I didn’t feel better [mentally] right away, and I didn’t understand why.”
She leaned on Bob and took comfort in prayer. “You have to treat the whole person. Recovery is a process, which includes the love, understanding, and support of hospital staff, social workers, clergy, family, friends etc.” she says.
Now, nine years post-op, Tredik says she recently started jogging intervals on the treadmill. “I didn’t have much hope that things could ever get better, but they did. I was determined!” she says.
“Dr. Pettersson saved my heart and my life,” Melanie continues. “I celebrate life and enjoy it each day. Thank you, Dr. Pettersson and Cleveland Clinic, and of course my loving husband, Bob.”