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Chestatee High School's Maddie Woodard overcomes heart condition
Maddie Woodard serves during a match for her Metro Volleyball club team.

When Madelynn “Maddie” Woodard was 6 years old, she would tell her parents she was having a heart attack.

“The very first time it happened, Maddie was 6,” said her mother Stephanie Woodard. “So she didn’t really have the words to describe what she was feeling. She’d say, “Mom, my heart is funny. I’m having my heart problem.’”

Maddie, now a ninth-grader at Chestatee High School, was an athlete from a young age. Today, after undergoing the proper treatment, she enjoys a life playing sports, but for many years her undiagnosed condition was an obstacle to physical activity.

She would experience episodes of extremely accelerated heartbeat with shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue.

“It got to the point where you could feel how fast it was racing and visibly see her chest do what made me think of a humming bird,” Stephanie Woodard said.

Maddie said she started swimming in the fourth grade, but the heart problems discouraged her.

“I kept up with it because my parents liked it, but then I found volleyball,” she said. “It was nice because it wasn’t as cardio intense, while still being a good exercise.”

Though she only started playing volleyball a little more than two years ago, Maddie is now on a high-level national team. Volleyball immediately became her passion, and she eventually gave up swimming to focus on it.

But her heart condition inhibited her playing. She never complained, but her coaches could tell when she was slowing down.

Stephanie Woodard said one of the most frustrating parts was the symptoms were hard to predict. Her family and doctors thought it might be psychosomatic.

“My dad would tell me I was having an anxiety attack,” Maddie said. “He’d say, ‘You need to go sit down and breathe.’”

For nearly seven years, Maddie saw about half a dozen doctors before she was referred to Dr. Wesley Lindsey with the Sibley Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, who diagnosed her with Supraventricular Tachycardia.

“He was able to piece together what was happening,” Stephanie Woodard said. “He figured out that it was happening when she was both in high cardio and had some sort of startle that got her adrenaline going.”

For example, if she was in her second swimming event and her heart rate was up from the first race, diving into cold water was enough to trigger her unusual response.

Maddie said she was most grateful for the diagnosis because it proved the condition wasn’t in her mind.

“He proved it wasn’t a fear response, it was a relief response,” Stephanie Woodard said. “She said, ‘It proves I’m not crazy.’”

Lindsey presented them with several treatment options. At first, Maddie chose to take the beta blocker Nadolol, but it caused her to have such intense mood swings she soon wanted to go down another route.

Both Woodard women expressed their extreme gratitude to Lindsey for his treatment. Maddie said she was grateful he never made her feel uncomfortable while monitoring her heart while she was in “the dreaded paper shirt.”

“Having him here in Hall County is such an asset,” Stephanie Woodard said.

Finally, last fall Lindsey arranged for Maddie’s surgical treatment at Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. In the minimally invasive operation, doctors entered a vein in Maddie’s leg, made their way to her heart and burned closed pathways in her heart.

The operation was performed on a Wednesday. By the following Sunday, she was back at volleyball practice.

Maddie, who spent this weekend in Orlando playing volleyball with her national league team, said she’s grateful for the diagnosis and treatment she received and the active life it restored.

“I will still occasionally have symptoms,” she said. “But it is definitely way easier than it used to be.”