SHERIDAN — As valedictorian and leader of the Sheridan High School basketball team, many in the town of under 1,000 found it hard to believe MacKenzie Fabel could be living through something serious.
Then she was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia, a potentially life-threatening heart condition.
"I've been having heart troubles for about seven years, but for six years everyone thought it was just anxiety and I needed to push through it," Fabel said. "I went to therapy and tried all the anxiety methods, but they weren't working."
Fabel was persistent in finding out what was wrong. She visited multiple doctors, all of whom were uncertain of what she was dealing with, until she visited a cardiologist in Billings who placed her on a heart monitor.
Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) is an abnormality in the timing of a heartbeat, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The condition causes a variety of daily symptoms from fatigue to fainting, and can lead to heart failure or sudden death if not treated properly.
"My heart gets stuck on a beat, then goes super duper fast and can't slow itself down," Fabel said. "If they can't stop it, then you die. They have to get rid of the bad cells that are causing it, so I went out in November to have it fixed."
Just as Fabel had found the root of her issues, she ran into another barrier in her fight to feel right. Upon returning to Billings for her procedure, she tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to reschedule.
For the next month, Fabel battled the effects of COVID-19 and SVT simultaneously, while she continued her senior year of high school. Fabel was kept off of the basketball floor as she recovered, as her final season was just getting underway.
"I went down there again (in December) and got it fixed. The SVT isn't happening, but they said for a few months it will feel like it's about to happen, and I have felt that," Fabel said. "Sometimes I feel exhausted for no reason, like I just ran the 400 and haven't stopped."
In a way, Fabel has run a lengthy race that is yet to conclude. From the constant uncertainty she felt years ago, to finally receiving a successful treatment, she remained determined to break through the challenges she faced to return to the things she loved.
Wendy Fabel, MacKenzie's mother and Sheridan assistant basketball coach, may know more than anyone about her daughter's challenges, and said she is proud of her daughter and her team's leader.
"She's been low-key about it, she doesn't like a lot of fuss," Wendy Fabel said. "It was scary because the treatment could have gone differently, she could've not been able to play this season."
"But I think it was a redemption for her to finally know that yes, there is a reason for what she's feeling. Her work ethic and leadership is really something I'm proud of," Wendy Fabel continued. "We're also thankful for the support we've gotten from the coach and the school system."
The Sheridan Panthers opened their season on January 4 against Twin Bridges, where they played without Fabel and lost 40-21. The Panthers would go on to lose their next two games, as Fabel nursed an injured ankle.
Cleared to play after defeating COVID-19, SVT and a sprained ankle, Fabel put on the white-and-blue jersey once more on Jan. 15, where she scored four points and led the Panthers to their first victory of the season, a 45-31 win over Lima.
"It felt really good, we didn't know if we'd have a season because of COVID," Fabel said. "And for it to be on senior night and one of our most competitive games of the season, I think we did great as a team."
After the victory, Fabel was asked to reflect on her fight to feel right, and what it was like doing so in the small town of Sheridan. Without hesitation, she responded with one word — "stressful".
She also said Sheridan High School, as well as the Sheridan community provides a family-like atmosphere, but there have also been downsides to such a small community.
"There's a lot more drama than I think there needs to be, everybody knows everybody's business," Fabel said. "Other kids' parents will care a lot more about me than if I went to a big school, but there's a lot of unnecessary drama here too."
Fabel also said that medical care is not always extensive in small towns, but this is not a reason to ignore signs of a problem.
As acknowledged by both MacKenzie's mother and Sheridan head coach Emily Pearson, Fabel's story could be inspiration for other young people who face an unfamiliar issue that is not easy to understand.
"If there's something wrong, and you're being told you're okay and to just push through it, but you don't think it's true, fight for yourself," Fabel said. "Fight for what you believe. If you know something's wrong, fight for it."
"They don't always know, they don't always find out right away," Fabel continued. "The doctors around here especially may not know, it could be a rare condition or they could just miss it."
Fabel's heart caused her problems for seven years, but it was also Fabel's heart that led her to understanding, fighting and beating those problems.
The Sheridan Panthers are scheduled to face West Yellowstone on the road this Friday. As for Fabel, she plans to attend The University of South Florida to study criminology upon graduation to become a private investigator.
Blake Fussell covers sports in and around Butte. Follow Blake on Twitter @blake_fussell