Despite clean bill of health, woman needed triple bypass
Sheila Smith
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Article Image Alt Text
Article Image Alt Text

(EDITOR’S NOTE: February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women, with approximately 610,000 people dying each year, according to the CDC. In an effort to raise awareness of this issue, throughout this month Jennings Daily News is featuring stories from locals who beat the odds. This is the second story in the series.)

Melody Veronie thought she was in good health because her blood pressure and cholesterol numbers were perfect. She was on no prescription medications, only daily vitamins, and regularly underwent checkups with her primary physician. It was only after she had a triple bypass at the age of 43 that she realized her body had been waving red flags for some time.

Just over a year ago, the Jennings woman developed what she and her doctor both believed was bronchitis. Despite rounds of steroids and antibiotics, one month later she was still dealing with pain in her chest.

“My lungs were clear and everything else seemed normal,” she said. “I was so exhausted at one point that I thought I had pneumonia. I kept going in to see my doctor. He began consulting other doctors and decided to refer me to a cardiologist.”

Results of a stress test showed some abnormalities but Veronie’s EKG results were perfect. She was later scheduled for a heart catheterization procedure, which is used to diagnose and treat heart conditions. The two options before her were receiving stints or surgery.

“When they did the heart cath, the cardiologist said the stint option was out and that I needed a double or triple bypass,” she said. “I was put in the hospital the next day.”

Despite the sudden turn of events, Veronie said she was not afraid.

“I had so much faith that they were going to fix me,” she said. “I was surprised by the news but for some reason I was never really scared.”

She also had faith and overwhelming support from family, friends and strangers. The night before her surgery she was alone in her hospital room, her family kept away due to closed icy roads and sleet.

“A hospital employee named Damon Scott who heard my story from my pastor, Josh Belt at Our Savior’s Church, found out what room I was in and came in to pray for me,” Veronie said. “I kept telling him, ‘You need to get home and be with your family.’ But he said, ‘No, I need to pray for you.’”

The triple bypass went smoothly and when Veronie was released from ICU, she chose to walk to her fifth-floor hospital room. The tough road came after the surgery.

She developed a blood clot in her lung which required treatment. Then a pocket created during surgery did not heal correctly, calling for the surgeon to go back into her chest to use vacuumassisted wound closure. From there, she developed a staph infection.

From the time of her surgery until she was completely healed, Veronie made about 10 trips to an emergency room.

“It got to a point where my parents kept a packed bag in their car so when my husband would call and say, ‘We’re going to the hospital,’ they would just jump in and come meet us,” she said.

Her supporters sold red t-shirts that included the hashtag “MelsHeartsStrong” to help offset medical expenses. Still today, she will see strangers around town sporting the tees.

“When all of this started, my husband, David, was laid off,” Veronie said. “He had opened Marshland Tackle in Jennings but the store was just getting started.”

A longtime hairstylist, she was working at a salon at the time of her surgery. Someone went to the salon one day and left a sealed envelope containing a card addressed to her.

“I was already worried about bills and as of that day, our truck note had not been paid,” she said. “When I opened the card, there was $741 inside. I have no clue who gave that money or why it was an odd number. I thought maybe the dollar amount was connected to a Bible verse, but I never could figure it out. All I know is that between bills, going back and forth to the hospital and medication, how people helped us financially was such a blessing.”

In fact, she was so overwhelmed by the love and support shown that she only cried when thinking of her blessings.

“I never cried because I was scared but I cried when I realized how loved my family and I are,” she said. “And my husband never left my side and Dylan and Wyatt, my sons, were there for me, taking care of their mom. I’m so blessed and owe everything to the Lord.”

Before her journey began, Veronie knew she had a family history of heart issues. Her maternal grandmother underwent heart surgery and her paternal grandfather had his first heart attack at age 45. Her father has stints in his arteries. Her older sister was born with a heart murmur and had to have a heart valve replaced later in life.

“But I still didn’t think it could happen to me because I tried to take care of myself and the annual tests my doctor ran always came back great,” she said. “Because of our family history my dad would always tell me to start getting my heart checked when I hit 40. I did and nothing was found. I even hired a personal trainer to come to my house so I could work out. When I would exercise, I didn’t feel like I was out of breath, but that my chest was heavy and preventing me from breathing. I just thought it was because I needed to lose weight.”

The truth is that she was ignoring the signals her body was sending. Sometimes her arm would go numb. She was regularly exhausted. Her husband would tell her that she would gasp in her sleep. Every now and then she would experience minor chest pain.

“I didn’t realize how bad I had actually been feeling before my surgery until I healed from everything after the bypass,” she said. “I stayed so busy that I never took the time to slow down. I would regularly work 12-hour days with no problem, standing on my feet all day and helping multiple clients at one time.”

More than a year after the triple bypass, Veronie is back at work. Her husband designed a special room for her inside Marshland Tackle where she services clients.

“I think he did that to kind of keep me close, to keep me around if I suddenly felt bad,” she said. “And now I cap my work hours and stagger my schedule. Instead of running around, I’ll sit down with my one client and visit.”

She still struggles with retaining fluid in her feet and lower legs because her job requires a lot of standing. Her heart is still healing, she said.

Doctors tell Veronie that she is a rare case because blood work never revealed any issues. Even the staph infection she endured following surgery was not detected. Still, she undergoes extensive testing every six months with a cardiologist. She takes six different prescription medications, including blood thinners.

“I’ll probably be on blood thinners the rest of my life,” she said. “The downside of that is I am now a free bleeder. I follow a careful diet to avoid sodium and I take vitamins. I just try overall to take better care of myself.”

Like many, Veronie never thought she would have to undergo a triple bypass or that it could happen at such a young age. But she also knows now that she ignored the signs of trouble.

“Women really need to listen to their bodies and be on alert,” she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry. Some people are scared to go to their doctor when they think something isn’t a big deal but your doctor should listen to you. I can’t tell you how many times I kept going back to my doctor saying I still felt bad. Don’t ignore your health.”

“I didn’t realize how bad I had actually been feeling before my surgery until I healed from everything after the bypass. I stayed so busy that I never took the time to slow down.”
– Melody Veronie