WEDNESDAY, May 24, 2023 (American Heart Association News) -- Mary "Micky" Foos was in her garage creating a TikTok video of her dancing when she felt like she was hit from behind by an out-of-control vehicle.
"I was expecting to turn around and see a truck through my garage door," the 25-year-old said. "But when I turned around, there was nothing there. I was so confused."
The shock came from the defibrillator in her chest. The device saved her life by detecting an abnormal heart rhythm and correcting it.
After the jolt, Micky's ears rang and she felt lightheaded. She stumbled into the kitchen and collapsed. Her roommates called 911.
Micky had supraventricular tachycardia, an electrical problem with her heart that results in a fast heart rate. Doctors performed an ablation to destroy the very small area of heart tissue causing the abnormal electrical signal.
As scary as such a procedure might seem, Micky was braced for it.
She was born with a condition called tetralogy of Fallot, which is characterized by four heart problems. One is a ventricular septal defect, or hole in the heart, but she had three holes. She was also born with an anomaly where the upper and lower parts of her esophagus didn't connect. Doctors repaired that right away. And her right lung was smaller.
Surgeons waited until Micky was stronger to fix her heart problems. For months, she was in and out of the hospital with congestive heart failure. At 6 months old, surgeons repaired the holes in her heart. At 18 months, she underwent a catheterization procedure in which doctors found a problem with her right ventricle. That led to another surgery, which turned into a two-month hospital stay. Micky's heart even stopped, leading surgeons to believe she had a pulmonary embolism. It got so dire that Micky spent a week on life support.
"After those eight weeks, she pretty much was fine growing up," said her mother, Dawn Foos. "She climbed trees and popped wheelies and went fishing and baited her own hook and all that good stuff."
Micky said she "pretty much tried every sport." Competitive volleyball was her favorite.
After growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, Micky chose to go away to college at her mother's alma mater, Georgia Southern – a 16-hour drive away in Statesboro, Georgia. Doctors warned that Micky might have heart trouble in the coming years but they didn't know how it would happen.
Chest pains began the second semester of her freshman year.
Some days she was so tired she couldn't get out of bed to go to class. She was dizzy and overall didn't feel well. She saw a cardiologist in the small town but eventually her problem was too advanced for him. That left Micky driving two hours to the medical center in Augusta, Georgia, where she had relatives who could visit or help if needed. Her parents made about 30 trips to Georgia.
"I was in the hospital on a monthly basis," Micky said. "I felt like I was always there."
Doctors diagnosed her with an arrhythmia called premature ventricular contractions. She would eventually have four ablations to correct those, but her heart still wasn't pumping like it should.
"In 2019, they told me, 'You aren't going to make it another 12 months with your heart function,'" Micky said.
So doctors placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in her chest and encouraged her to exercise to build up strength. That's what she was doing in November 2020 when the device shocked her. She graduated a few weeks later and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to become a mental health case worker and live by the beach. She also was being treated by a congenital cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic there.
She still struggled with fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. Then she started having problems with her esophagus, too.
"At that point I couldn't even eat because everything I ate got stuck, so I was really weak," Micky said.
Her friends started a social media campaign to help find a team of specialists to treat her. They started a GoFundMe to help with her bills. She also began treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the experience of the ICD shock and other heart issues.
Frustrated with her debilitating situation, Micky moved back to Kansas last summer for treatment at the university hospital. She is currently on disability and living with her parents, although she is doing some modeling.
The independent young woman who prided herself on working and paying her bills despite her heart condition said her current state feels "like a punch to the stomach."
"I have to remind myself how much I've actually been through and how much I've accomplished and how strong I actually am to have made it through all this, physically and mentally," she said.
Her mother said Micky is in chronic pain every day.
"I think it's important that people do understand that living with chronic illness takes a toll," Dawn said.
Micky remains passionate about spreading awareness about heart disease. She even has tattoos that help spark conversation. On her 18th birthday she got a tattoo of an EKG waveform with a heart in the middle. She has a rose representing "beauty and strength" in the center of her chest to help cover a scar. She has a realistic heart with flowers blooming out of it that goes up her right arm and shoulder.
After one Georgia Southern football game, Micky and her mom got matching wrist tattoos of a Zibu symbol that means "embrace life."
"It's just a reminder to embrace everything and appreciate the ups and the downs just because there is always something to be grateful for," Micky said. "I feel like the harder times that I go through make the good times better."
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved.
By Stefani Kopenec, American Heart Association News