Kay Dillie is lucky to be alive. She was born with a disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolemia, or FH. Her father and grandfather both died of heart attacks before age 45, and she believes they suffered from FH but were never diagnosed or treated.
FH is a hereditary condition where the liver is unable to remove cholesterol from the blood. Patients with FH have very high LDL, or so called "bad cholesterol", which is deposited in the arteries and other parts of the body. FH affects about one in 500 people, and is more common than type 1 diabetes. FH is most often treated with cholesterol-lowering medications, and diet changes.
For roughly 10% of people with FH, however, medication doesn't work to lower their LDL cholesterol. Kay is one of those people.
She experienced her first heart attack at age 35, and has had six heart bypass surgeries. She struggled to lower her cholesterol for eight years before suffering another heart attack. It was then that she saw endocrinologist and specialist in treating high cholesterol, Dr. Thomas Repas, and was diagnosed with FH. With Dr. Repas' help she eventually began a treatment called LDL apheresis.
Similar to dialysis, apheresis uses a machine that filters the blood and replaces it back into the body. Kay now comes to the CCH Dialysis unit every two weeks for an apheresis treatment that lasts about 3.5 hours.
This treatment has made a huge difference in Kay's life, enabling her to keep up with her grandchildren and lead a relatively normal life. She has become an advocate for the importance of testing for FH, saying that a fasting lipid test (a blood test that measures cholesterol) is easy and many times less expensive than heart surgery. Because of the hereditary nature of her condition, she is making sure her grandchildren are tested for FH so they can begin treatment early if needed.
Dr. Repas relocated his Endocrinology practice to Gillette from Rapid City, SD in December 2015, and now patients like Kay can have their apheresis treatment without leaving home. While Kay is the first LDL apheresis patient treated at CCH, the equipment now makes it possible for other FH patients to get their care at Campbell County Health (CCH). Dr. Repas sees patients with diabetes, thyroid and other hormone-related conditions at Campbell County Medical Group Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. Kay really appreciates how Dr. Repas explains things to her, and his knowledge of her medical condition.
"Staying on top of it keeps me healthy," said Kay. "Without this treatment I would be dead."
Photo: Kay and her grandchildren; Kinlie (7), Hudsen (3) and Lainie (10).