1203-SFTH-Mikala Hicks_Blog

Mikala Hicks had no doubt about who she would be jumping for at her school’s Jump Rope For Heart event last school year.

Fanly Lim, her grandmother, or, in Cantonese, her “Pau Pau.”

Mikala, 10, is close to her grandmother, who picks her up after school each day and watches her 4-year-old sister, Melia, during the day. They do activities together, including going to the park near their home in Boise, Idaho.

“My favorite thing is just spending time with her,” Mikala said. “I love being around her.”

Last October, Fanly was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular heartbeat that can prevent the heart from effectively circulating the blood.

Fanly, then 76, had gone to the doctor for a regular check-up when her blood pressure was found to be low. While in the office, she also experienced shortness of breath and heart palpitations and had unexplained swelling in her legs. Testing showed she was retaining fluid.

She was sent immediately to the hospital for treatment, and over the next few days doctors worked to help the body expel the fluid, relieving pressure on Fanly’s heart and stabilizing her condition.

For Mikala, it was hard to see her grandmother in the hospital. “It was scary, but I knew she was in good care,” she said.

Even while in the hospital’s cardiac care unit, Fanly tried to take the role of caregiver, reassuring her granddaughter. She’d save parts of her lunch to offer Mikala when she’d visit the hospital each day after school.

Mikala Hicks with her sister, Melia, and grandparents, Goon and Fanly Lim.

Mikala Hicks with her sister, Melia, and grandparents, Goon and Fanly Lim.

Her condition caught the family by surprise, because although Fanly had been treated for high blood pressure for decades, it was always kept under control and she maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly.

“It was a shock,” said Linda Lim Hicks, Fanly’s daughter and Mikala’s mom. “She was always so healthy.”

An estimated 2.7 million to 6.1 million people are living with AFib, which can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. In fact, people with AFib are up to five times more likely to have a stroke.

Fanly manages her AFib with medication and adjusted her diet to reduce her salt intake, but is otherwise doing fine.

“It hasn’t slowed her down a bit,” Linda said.

With the help of her father, Mikala made a video tribute to her Pau Pau as part of her fund raising efforts for the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart and raised $1,585 – the most of any other student at Pierce Park Elementary.

Mikala said her Pau Pau’s diagnosis helped her learn more about how the heart works and how to keep it healthy through diet and exercise.

“And if it gets sick, it can cause major issues like not being able to breathe or your blood is not able to circulate properly through the body,” she said.

Mikala wanted to support AHA because of the work it does to help people of all ages prevent and treat heart disease.

“I want kids that have heart disease to be able to play like any other kid and for everyone to be able to play together and be happy,” she said.

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Photography and video used with permission. Copyright 2015 Michael Sean Hicks. All rights reserved.