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WASHINGTON (Feb 22, 2018) -
While on active duty as a nurse in the U.S. Navy, Melissa Cappuccilli’s heart began to race. She went to the emergency room, where she discovered she was in ventricular tachycardia with a heart rate ranging from 180 to 220 beats per minute (normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm). After a month of testing, Cappuccilli was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a rare type of cardiomyopathy that required her to be implanted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and ultimately medically retire from the Navy. Cappuccilli’s strength, positive attitude and inspiring story has led her to be recognized in the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest.
Ventricular tachycardia occurs in the lower part of the heart; it is when the heart beats too rapidly in a regular rhythm and the ventricles cannot effectively pump blood into the rest of the body. If left untreated, ventricular tachycardia can turn into a fast and irregular heart beat called ventricular fibrillation, which can be life-threatening.
As a single mother with four kids, recently retired and with an uncertain medical future, Cappuccilli said she was confused and concerned after her diagnosis. She spent the next 14 years undergoing several ablations and heart mapping procedures to determine the origin of her arrhythmia. Cappuccilli needed five ICDs throughout the time and spent two years living with congestive heart failure.
“Often when I look back on what I’ve been through, I could be very depressed and upset,” Cappuccilli said. “But I make the choice to begin each day with a grateful heart.”
On November 13, 2013, Cappuccilli received the 13th heart transplant of the year at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Her donor was a 19-year-old nursing student who had made the choice to become an organ donor.
Eight weeks after her heart transplant, Cappuccilli was volunteering to work the Donate Life America booth at the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon when her heart transplant coordinator told her, “Melissa, you can be out here running next year.”
Cappuccilli had been told she could never do intense workouts due to her ARVD, but her heart transplant coordinator’s words were encouraging. That night, she looked up the website for the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon. The website advertised for the Tri City Medical Center Lucky 13 running team, a group of 13 individuals who have overcome a medical condition and selected each year to train for the half marathon. Having received the 13th heart transplant of 2013 on November 13, Cappuccilli knew she was meant to run on the Lucky 13 team. She applied and was accepted to join.
Just over a year after receiving a heart transplant, Cappuccilli completed her first half marathon. In January 2018, she completed her fifth half marathon and is currently training for her sixth.
“I have lived more in the last four years than the previous 14,” Cappuccilli said. “I follow a heart healthy diet, I do everything my heart transplant team says. I take medications and monitor my blood pressure, heart rate and weight every day.”
Cappuccilli exercises a minimum of three times each week for an hour, and tries to do some form of exercise every day, whether it’s a seven-minute high intensity interval training or a longer core workout.
“I challenge myself to see how many squats I can do before my electric toothbrush turns off!” Cappuccilli said.
Cappuccilli now works full time as a registered nurse and spends her free time volunteering for Donate Life America. She recently became a WomenHeart Champion and shares her story to inspire women to become involved in their heart health.
“People are amazed at what I can do with spare parts, so I challenge them.” Cappuccilli said. “Think about what you could accomplish with the original equipment, if you take care of it. It all starts with a positive attitude and a choice to begin each day with a grateful heart.”
CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the ACC. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established a contest to find individuals who were living well with heart disease conditions. Five individuals are being recognized this year.
Cappuccilli’s story of living CardioSmart will be featured on CardioSmart.org as a positive example to people living with heart disease. To read more about her story, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Melissa-Cappuccilli
The four other “I am CardioSmart” contest finalists are Jared Blitz of Denver; Michael Melstad of Banks, Oregon; Collette Sroka of Enfield, Connecticut, and Kathleen Thompson of Orange County, California.
To learn more about heart transplants, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Healthwise/hw30/661/hw30661
The American College of Cardiology is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College and its more than 52,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more, visit acc.org.