Melissa Biggs looks like a model – tall, blonde and athletic – or, at least looking at her, you might think she’s somebody you saw in a movie or on television.
In fact, she’s all of those things.
She plays in a tennis league two or three times a week, runs her own business, cares for her daughter Macy, 12, and is “always, always busy.”
She’s not, however, the picture of health she seems to be. She gets pneumonia fairly often, for example; got it just this winter. Now 34, she was diagnosed with Alpha-1 two years ago. That was after years of frequent colds and pneumonia, visits to leading specialists and intensive testing by an allergist.
None of these led to the correct diagnosis. What did was a call from mom.
Her mother happened to be talking to distant relatives in South Dakota and learned about a strange illness that affected eight of them. One, who never drank, had died from liver disease; another, who never smoked, had died from emphysema. The condition, of course, was Alpha-1, and Biggs was diagnosed only because she asked to be tested.
The story sounds familiar to many Alphas.
(The allergist, by the way, had diagnosed severe allergies and “stoic asthma”. Just recently, she found out that asthma was a misdiagnosis; instead she has bronchiectasis, another condition commonly found in Alphas.)
Biggs grew up outside a small town in Oregon. As a child she studied drama and dance and worked as a model in Portland, where she appeared in many TV commercials and print ads. The family split up when Biggs was nine. She moved frequently with one of her parents or the other after that; she attended 14 grammar schools.
At eighteen, she decided to leave college and set out for Hollywood. She signed with an agency and worked with acting coaches including the legendary Roy London. She appeared for two seasons in “Baywatch”, made-for-TV films and theater films including “Rush Hour 2”.
She was a commercial model for several years, then formed her own talent agency, and worked as an assistant designer for a major contract furnishings design house.
In 2004, she created MacyJane Enterprises, a design house, and in 2006 she launched an exclusive T-shirt collection, PGD, which she distributes to high-end stores worldwide. She says her friend Paul Marciano, CEO of Guess? Inc., has been a major help with her commercial design projects.
A proper diagnosis is not a cure, of course, but it has made a big difference in her life. These days, she gets aggressive treatment for her lung infections and is on augmentation therapy. She has served as a spokesperson for Alpha-1 and this year will hold her second fundraiser for Alpha-1. She’s writing a book, “an inspirational biography,” and already has a publisher lined up.
“I’m living my life’s dream,” she says. “To help others and make a difference.”
Biggs lives in Santa Monica, California.