ATSU student Elena Mendoza Stone, OT, ’17, knows what it means to overcome obstacles and press on. An avid runner, Mendoza Stone, whose home town is Ann Arbor, Michigan, said that her love of running gave her the courage to train for a full marathon in 2012. “During the 18-week training program, I tested my mental strength and physical stamina,” said Mendoza Stone. She completed a half-marathon and was ready for a full marathon one month later. Or so she thought.
A few days after she completed the half-marathon, Mendoza Stone experienced dizziness, sweating and rapid heart rate. “All of a sudden, I started to sweat, my heart raced, my hearing went, and my vision started to go,” said Mendoza Stone. “My friends raced me to urgent care and called my husband. I had always had abnormal EKGs because of what I thought, and which had been tested for, was an innocent murmur. My abnormal EKG was alarming to the urgent care physician, who then sent me to an emergency room, where I was admitted me to the hospital.”
After three days in the hospital, Mendoza Stone was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a congenital heart disease that causes the septum of the heart muscle to thicken, which causes the ventricles to become smaller and makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body.
“For about a year after the diagnosis, I was pretty afraid to move,” she said. “I got a heart rate monitor and tried some light exercise but I was terrified, and very sad. I was devastated by the loss of an activity (running) that I had grown to love and had become a central part of my identity, yet simultaneously, I realized I still had all of life’s opportunities ahead of me. I could have died, but I didn’t.”
Later that year, Mendoza Stone got involved with the Anthony Bates Foundation, an organization whose mission is to educate people about the early detection of HCM. She became their ambassador, sharing her story at fundraising events and also participates as a volunteer at their community heart-screening programs. Most recently in 2014, she has been named a Heart Hero by the Detroit half-marathon & 5k directors. Mendoza Stone will also be singing the National Anthem at the Detroit half-marathon that will be held on Sept. 21.
ATSU is supportive of helping Mendoza Stone adjust to her physical limitations because of HCM. “ATSU professors have been tremendously supportive and accommodating to my limitations,” she says. “They have made it very easy for me to keep my health a main focus while I am in school. I have utilized the University’s learning enrichment services and counseling services to help manage my anxiety regarding school and my heart condition.”
“Adjusting to new limitations has been a difficult journey and a journey that I am still taking,” says Mendoza Stone. “I will never run again, but I have a positive outlook on life, belief in my abilities, and the skills and dedication to take on any challenge and set new and inspiring goals.”