Marissa’s Story

I emailed Lucy’s cardiologist to see if she could help me find more stories to share for Heart Month. She put me in touch with Marissa, the inspiring young woman whose story I share today. Marissa was born with multiple CHDs and her story is truly an example of triumphing in the face of adversity. Hers is the first story I have shared that is in the heart warrior’s own words. I have modified it very little and those modifications were grammatical and structural. Marissa, thank you so much for sharing your story.
My name is Marissa, I’m 17, and I live in New Jersey.
Seventeen and a half years ago, I was born with six Congenital Heart Defects: Pulmonary Atresia, Ventricular Septal Defect, Ventricular Inversion, Dextracardia, Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Great Arteries, and Bilateral Superior Vena Cavas. Within hours of my birth, I was rushed by an ambulance to a different hospital, to prepare for my first open heart surgery. When I was three days old, I underwent a BT Shunt. Then, when I was 8 months old, I had a Hemi-Fontan. Finally, a Fontan completion was done when I was 22 months old.
Growing up, I had always been a very active child. I played soccer, softball, danced, and I was a cheerleader. Although I was involved in many activities, soccer had always been my passion; I dreamed of following my grandfather’s footsteps by playing in the World Cup and Olympics.  Some of my best friends were on my soccer team and I envisioned playing high school soccer with all of them. However, when I was approaching Middle School, I noticed it was becoming harder to play my favorite position, center midfielder. Running back and forth from one side of the field to the other never really bothered me in the past, but I started noticing that I would be breathing heavier, I would have less energy, and I would be very tired. So, I went to the cardiologist to have my first stress test. I rode on the stationary bike for 10 minutes, and afterwards, my cardiologist told me that I had to stop playing soccer. This was a life-changing experience for me, considering I wanted my future to be all about soccer. To overcome this, I needed to find something else that I was passionate towards and middle school is where I began my journey of finding my niche.
In 6th grade, I joined the school’s chorus and show choir (theater department). I originally used the after school rehearsals as a replacement for my soccer practices that I had always attended. I didn’t really fall in love with the whole acting, singing, and dancing thing until 7th grade. My chorus teacher was a role model to me; to this day, she has had a strong influence on a lot of the things I do. In 8th grade, I started taking piano lessons with her. Piano is something I love; I love being able to take a piece of music and add my own feelings and emotions to the overall piece. My teacher not only taught me how to play piano, but she also taught me how to accept myself the way I am; I’ve learned how to be the bigger person and how to appreciate the good things in life.
Overall, throughout middle school, music became very important to me. Not only has it given me an escape from reality, but I have had the opportunity to meet new people from the opposite spectrum of our school. Before I was in chorus, I was mainly friends with the soccer girls. Now, I have strong friendships with both the soccer girls and chorus and theater members. I cherish these relationships; sometimes, it’s crazy to think that I never would’ve been friends with them if I hadn’t joined chorus after quitting soccer.
In high school, I was introduced to a new hobby that I have grown to love and cherish – volunteering. Volunteering is a commitment that many high schoolers try to stay away from. Sure, some schools have a volunteer hour requirement in order to graduate, but I started volunteering in my first month of high school. I joined the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters program with two of my other friends and since then, it has become something that I am extremely devoted to. I love mentoring young children, especially the one whom I am assigned to (my “little”). I was named Big Sister of the Year for three surrounding NJ counties for the 2010-2011 school year. If I could, I would love to stay with this same program throughout college. Along with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I volunteer with the American Red Cross, the Middle School, and the Kindergarten Soccer Clinics that are run by the mayor in my town. I’ve volunteered at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen in Camden, NJ, and I’ve spent countless hours returning to the Middle School show choir to assist in their fall and spring concerts and productions. I believe volunteering is so important to me because I know what it is like to be at a disadvantage. I want to help people who are not living their ideas of a perfect life. I know what it’s like to be different, so I strive to help the homeless by volunteering at a soup kitchen and I strive to help less fortunate children by remaining committed to Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Along with all of my volunteer hours, I take part in many school activities. I am a part of our school’s Student Government, National Honor Society, and I am a soccer manager for the boys’ varsity team. Although I cannot play soccer, I am still a part of a team by managing. I graduate high school in just over 4 months, but my commitment to volunteering will definitely travel with me to college.
I have already been accepted to my top choice college, The College of New Jersey, as a nursing major. I’ve always dreamed of becoming either a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse practitioner or a Cardiac Care Unit nurse at a well known hospital, such as CHOP.  Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to volunteer at CHOP over the summer; I would love to be able to talk to families of children who are suffering from heart defects.
I have always been interested in meeting others who are like me. None of my friends understand exactly what I have been through, but remaining connected to several “Congenital Heart Defects Awareness” Facebook pages have given me the opportunity to learn about others going through the same things as I have. Even talking to parents who have babies suffering from a CHD is always an enlightening experience, for both the parents and myself.
I believe that I have turned my life with CHD into a positive one; I love having friends who play soccer, and friends who perform on stage. Being born with a congenital heart defect isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I have become a stronger, more adaptable person. If you or your child is affected by a CHD, always remember to look at the bright side of your situation, because everything happens for a reason and maybe you were meant to have the limitations that you do.
Stay strong, heart family! ❤ Happy Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week! ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
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