Melissa posingMelissa Moser, 27, suffered from a near fatal pulmonary embolism during college. Despite her 1-in-10 chance of survival, Melissa recovered and today lives and active lifestyle working full-time, keeping up with two dogs and playing softball.

What was your reaction when you learned that you had heart disease?

My story is a little unique because I don’t actually have a diagnosis of heart disease, but I do have a history of heart failure. My heart failure was caused by a massive pulmonary embolism (blood clot between the heart and lungs), and it came as a complete surprise. I was being treated for pneumonia, and next thing I knew, I woke up in the hospital. I was told I had open-heart surgery to remove the clot, but my heart failed in the process and I was put on a recovery heart pump to give my heart a chance to rest and hopefully recover. That was quite a shock to hear!

The next few days were even harder, when the surgeons weren’t sure my heart would recover. They talked about putting me on a heart transplant list. Thankfully, my heart had a chance to rest with the help of the AB5000 heart pump. Time was what my heart needed to recover – just like any strained muscle that needs a break in order to heal.

What are some misconceptions people hold about young people and heart disease?

I think most people don’t believe young people can suffer from heart disease, heart failure, or other heart conditions. This assumption is wrong! Chronic and acute heart conditions can happen regardless of age, and it is important for everyone to know what to be on the lookout for, and what they can do to promote heart health. In my particular case, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and treated for it for two weeks (including two ER visits, one office visi,t and multiple x-rays), but it was a misdiagnosis.

Doctors now believe my chest pain was caused by the blood clots. However, my young age and good health probably contributed toward my misdiagnosis – youth and good health aren’t thought of as typical with cardiovascular problems by the general public or by some medical professionals. It pays to be your own advocate and that starts with being well-informed – even the young can suffer from heart disease and other heart issues.

How did your college friends react when you told them of your open-heart surgeries?

Most of them heard via word-of-mouth and had already gone to the hospital to see me. I know there was a large group of family and friends in the waiting room, dealing with quite a bit of shock and fear, as my situation was extremely critical at that point. In fact, the surgeons informed my parents and fiancée (at the time, now husband) that I had only 10 percent chance of survival. I’m told that my friends almost took over the waiting room and those hours I was in surgery were spent by many in prayer.

My surgery took place a month before my college graduation. I was in the hospital for two and a half weeks, and then went with my parents to recover at home for the rest of the semester. My university graciously waived the rest of my classwork/exams, and I was able to walk across the stage with just the assistance of a cane. I went to a small, close-knit university, and I think everyone was relieved to see me there – I got a standing ovation!

What hardships did you face balancing a “college lifestyle” with managing your cardiovascular health?

Unfortunately, because of the timing of my heart surgery, I never went back to school for the last few weeks of class. I went home to my parents and then returned for graduation. Recovering from open-heart surgery (and in my case, three open-heart surgeries in five days’ time) is hard work. I can’t imagine trying to do that at school, or without my parents’ wonderful support.

How has your diagnosis affected your outlook on your overall health and your future?

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly six years since my heart surgery. I am happy to report that I have had no additional heart problems, and my cardiologist says my heart “looks like that of a normal person that hasn’t suffered any trauma.”  I am on blood-thinners to prevent future blood clots, but that doesn’t have too many restrictions associated with it. I am able to live a full life. I have been married for five and half years to my wonderful husband and I work full time at a nonprofit organization.

I don’t take my life for granted. I am focused on eating right, exercising regularly, and doing everything I can to keep my heart and body healthy. I am always learning about heart health and ways that I can be my own advocate and an advocate for others. Heart disease is common, but I will do everything in my power to prevent it. I already almost lost my heart once – I refuse to be passive and lose it in the future. I encourage everyone, whether you have previously been diagnosed with heart disease or not –to never give up. There is a lot you can do to improve your health and take care of your heart.