It was the night before final exams week at the University of Alabama in December 2015 when Shelby Hazelip fell ill, experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness. The then 19-year-old initially wrote the symptoms off, but while taking her exams, the symptoms persisted and worsened as the day went on.
“Later that night, it got to the point where I was severely uncomfortable, so I took myself to the [emergency room],” Shelby said. After an examination, Shelby was told her symptoms were the result of stress, too much caffeine, not enough sleep and perhaps the beginnings of a respiratory infection.
“I was told I would be OK, but two days go by, I manage to complete my finals and I’m still feeling terrible with the same symptoms,” Shelby said. “They never let up.”
With final exams behind her, Shelby traveled home to Slapout, Alabama for winter break. Still complaining of her symptoms, Shelby and her family went to another emergency room in hopes of getting a second opinion. “The doctors found I had blood spurting across my heart where it shouldn’t be,” Shelby said.
A subsequent visit to The Kirklin Clinic in Birmingham for additional testing confirmed an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart. The condition is present from birth.
“There was a two-centimeter hole across the top of my heart, which allowed the right side of my heart to take in more blood than it should. The right side of my heart was two times the size of what it should be normally,” Shelby said. “Doctors were adamant that I get surgery as soon as possible.”
Shelby underwent a successful open heart surgery at Children’s of Alabama, where recovery began soon afterwards. She was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve 2015, but was readmitted in February 2016 for a pericardial effusion – an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pericardial cavity. Shelby underwent another successful surgery to drain the fluid and has since had her one-year check-up.
“Everything was completely normal!” Shelby exclaimed. “It has been a hard road to recovery, but with the help from Children’s and the doctors and surgeons, I may not be here today. Children’s allowed me to get better and heal properly and gave me a second chance at life that could have easily been taken from me in an instant.”
With her second chance, Shelby returned to the University of Alabama in the fall of 2016 and made the Dean’s List that semester. She is a special education major on a track to become a gifted education teacher.