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Hope For Her Heart

August 17, 2010, 6:10 PM by Kelli Grant

Hope For Her Heart
SIOUX FALLS, SD - A Sioux Falls woman is preparing herself for yet another heart surgery. At just 35 years old, Angie Mellem will have her 10th procedure next week.

She isn't the only one in her family to have her heart repaired. Her father was South Dakota's first heart transplant patient. It's a bond the two share, even though he isn't here to help her through each operation.

KELOLAND News captured the little blonde girl cheering on her dad when he came home from the hospital with a brand new heart.  Twenty-five years later, she's facing much of same hardships her father dealt with for years.

“I'm 35 years old and I don't grocery shop if I don't have to because I'm shot for the rest of the night. I go up two flights of stairs and I'm gasping for breath,” Mellem said.

Mellem has years of memories her dad, Greg, left behind in a scrapbook; pictures from hours after his transplant, newspaper clippings, even lists of who to thank.  All reminders that his heart condition essentially became her's.

Next week, she'll head to Chicago for her 10th procedure.

“They'll make scar tissue inside my heart to try and leave a passageway for the electrical impulse to follow. Seems like every time they do that I heal through part of it.  That electrical impulse starts getting out where it's not supposed to be and causes all kinds of problems,” Mellem said.

Her father had to sell his cattle to pay for his new heart and benefit after benefit helped with the bills. Now keeping up with the bills is Mellem's challenge.

“If I have to pay for medications and a copay to see my doctor that makes it so I can't pay my cell phone bill this month.  Totally messes up your credit, so I have horrible credit,” Mellem said.

Mellem's had open heart surgery, two mini-strokes and most recently received a pacemaker.

“I'm not scared. What's going to happen is going to happen. It's outside of my hands really. I think I'm doing the best I can by seeking out treatment because I think, had my dad sought out treatment prior to when he finally went to the doctor, he may have been able to, you know, have some treatment before hand and maybe we would have got a little more time with him,” Mellem said.

Greg Mellem's heart stopped out on the combine seven years after his heart transplant. He was 37.

It's why this soon to be 36-year-old woman has become her own advocate to heal her heart, to be there for her two kids. And if she has to, she'll have a heart transplant, just like her father.

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