Heartbeat of Hollandale

Published 9:01 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You’d never know by looking at the outside of Susan DeVries that something’s terribly wrong with her on the inside.

Susan, who is a teacher at Hollandale Christian School, a mother of three and a wife to husband, Dirk, entered the Freeborn County and national spotlight last October.

When her family was selected as the recipient of a home makeover through the ABC TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the whole country became aware of her potentially life-threatening condition.

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With the condition, termed ventricular tachycardia, Susan experiences an irregular heartbeat. She said what happens is a group of muscles generate their own beats.

When she was in seventh grade, doctors first discovered she had an irregular heartbeat, she said.

At that time, because doctors didn’t really know a lot about the condition, she was forbidden to play sports. That’s probably why she got into music.

Though her life has never been normal because of the condition, she’s dealt with it.

She’s been on medications off and on, without really much success, she said.

In December of 2007 when she had surgery for an unrelated issue, her heart went into arrhythmia in the recovery room. That brought the condition back to the doctors’ attention that things were getting worse, she said.

She had one surgery to try to help her heart in May of 2008 and then another at the end of October 2008 — after the home makeover. Doctors went in through the arteries to see if they could zap the muscles that were the worst.

However, because those muscles were near the coronary artery, much of the problem was not able to be taken care of, she said. The doctors zapped some of the muscles and gave her another medication.

“I felt super, super good, but unfortunately, the medication had terrible side effects,” Susan said.

The medication affected her personality, so she opted to go off of it, she said. As soon as she went off of it, the irregular heartbeats came back.

She goes in to Rochester every two or three months for checkups and also does periodic heart monitoring.

Looking to the future, she said, doctors are looking at doing another surgery in the summer, this time going in under the ribs to try to reach the problem muscles.

In the meantime, she wants to focus on her oldest daughter April’s graduation and finish out the school year.

She’s also on another medication to see if that can get her through, but it’s not working well, Susan said.

She’s back to being completely exhausted and sleeping as much as she can.

She wanted people to know she has been evaluated and it is still been approved for her to drive the bus for Hollandale Christian. If she’s too tired to drive, her husband will step in.

To make things easier during the week, she’s also started making a month’s worth of meals on Saturdays.

She’s also not gotten bronchitis or pneumonia this year, which she attributes to the clean air in the new house.

“The house is fabulous,” Susan said. “Everything is wonderful.”

Her family continues to support her through the process, though that support does not come without worry.

“My daughter Hanna, she’s the one who worries the most,” Susan said.