It’s common knowledge that to maintain good health, it’s best to get some exercise and eat a healthy diet. However, most of us struggle to put that knowledge to good use, instead giving in to our guilty pleasure foods and the comfort of the couch.
But if we have the willpower to eat clean and work out hard, we expect to get into good shape. One woman would find out that, despite all of her efforts, sometimes health depends on other factors…
Meegan Hefford was studying paramedicine at Edith Cowan University and also working part time at Princess Margaret Hospital in telecommunications. Even with all of those duties the mother of two still found time to go to the gym twice a day.
Meegan was the picture of health. Since 2014, the 25-year-old had been competing in bodybuilding and she was in great shape. She’d even taken 4th place in Western Australia’s most prestigious bodybuilding competition…
Hungry for Competition
Unsatisfied with just 4th place Meegan was preparing for another bodybuilding competition. That meant that she would have to ramp up her gym visits. Perhaps more importantly, in order to put on lean mass, it meant that she would have to tighten up her diet.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Meegan’s preparation was maintaining her strict diet. She would have to greatly reduce her intake of fats and carbohydrates while, at the same time, increasing her intake of protein…
In order to meet her dietary goals, Meegan stuck to eating only protein rich foods such as lean meats and egg whites. On top of that, Meegan was consuming lots of protein shakes and other dietary supplements meant to get her in the most lean and muscular shape of her life.
Meegan’s training was going well and she was looking great. She was on track to be in even better shape than at her last competition. But a few months out from her competition, Meegan began complaining to her family about feeling like something wasn’t right…
In early June, Meegan started to feel lethargic and “weird.” Her mother Michelle White said to her “I think you’re doing too much at the gym, calm down, slow it down.” Her mother was worried that her intense bodybuilding regimen was taking a toll on her.
Then on June 19th, when a real estate agent was conducting a property rental inspection on Meegan’s apartment, she came across Meegan curled up and unconscious. The agent immediately alerted the authorities and Meegan was rushed to the hospital…
While it was clear that something was wrong, the doctors at the hospital were baffled by Meegan’s condition. Based on her age and healthy lifestyle, there were no obvious reasons as to why she would have collapsed.
After running a battery of tests, doctors learned one important thing: Meegan’s brain activity was rapidly diminishing. “I couldn’t believe what the doctors were telling me, she was dying. I said, ‘You have to give her more time’, because she didn’t look sick, she looked beautiful,” her mother said…
Initially, the doctors were at a loss as to what was causing the decrease in Meegan’s brain activity. It wasn’t until the next day that doctors were able to determine that there was an incredibly high level of ammonia in her blood and brain fluid.
What Was the Source?
The doctors didn’t know where the ammonia had come from. There was no sign that she had ingested it and no signs that she had been injected. The only logical conclusion was that she had somehow produced the ammonia inside her own body…
Not Enough Time
By the time doctor’s discovered what was happening, it was too late to save Meegan. The day after she was discovered in her apartment, the ammonia in her body had done so much damage that she was brain-dead with no hope of recovering.
It turns out that Meegan’s extremely healthy lifestyle had partially led to her demise. Meegan was posthumously diagnosed with urea cycle disorder. It is a rare genetic disorder that affects 1 in 8,000 people. Those affected have a deficiency of a certain enzyme that prevents protein from breaking down properly…
Because Meegan broke down protein more slowly than usual, she was incapable of processing the large amounts of protein she was eating in order to prepare for her bodybuilding competition. The result was the buildup of ammonia in her bloodstream…
While there are very limited treatment options available for people with urea cycle disorder, with a balanced diet, most people who have it never exhibit any symptoms at all. And because it’s a rare disease with an uncommon trigger — eating extreme amounts of protein — doctors don’t often test for it…
Meegan’s mother Michelle blames dietary supplements and protein shakes for not having strong enough warnings on them about the potential health risks involved with taking them. Devastated, she said she only discovered her daughter was taking protein supplements after her death when she found half a dozen supplement containers in her kitchen.
Michelle believed that if there were tighter restrictions and better warnings on protein supplements, Meegan’s death could have been prevented. “I know there are people other than Meegan who have ended up in hospital because they’ve overloaded on supplements,” she said, adding “the sale of these products needs to to more regulated.”
Michelle took some solace in Meega living a fulfilling life while she was around. “Losing Meegan, it’s so awful and I still can’t believe she’s gone but I have to focus on the positives that at least I had 25 years with her and she jammed so much into her life, it’s almost like she knew her time would be short,” she said.
If there can be one silver lining to Meegan’s death, it’s that she left behind many of her organs in order to save or improve the lives of others. “Meegan has saved four people’s lives because of her heart, her lungs and kidneys,” her mother said. “They couldn’t take her liver because it was shot.