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. The chambers of her heart were beating out of sync, with a heart rate ranging from 180 to 220 beats per minute (normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm). If left untreated, ventricular tachycardia can turn into a fast and irregular heartbeat called ventricular fibrillation, which can be life-threatening.
After a month of testing, Cappuccilli was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a rare type of heart muscle disease that required her to be implanted with a defibrillator 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.
As a single mother with four kids, recently retired and with an uncertain medical future, Cappuccilli says 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 defibrillators throughout that 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 says. “But I make the choice to begin each day with a grateful heart.”
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. 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 says. “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.
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 says. “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 American College of Cardiology. 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 recognized for 2018.
Learn more about cardiac care at Sharp by visiting sharp.com/heart.
Information provided by the American College of Cardiology.
For the news media: To talk with Melissa Cappuccilli about her national award for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.