By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Melissa Rotondo of Marlborough was born with a heart murmur, identified by her doctors as “innocent.” Up through young adulthood, she found any physical activity difficult. At age 26, she was diagnosed and treated for atrial septal defect, a congenital heart disease. Now 37, she ran two 5K road races within the past year.
“I's like to be a role model for my three children, two of whom are girls,” she said. “If they see that I's active, then they'sl want to live a lifestyle like that as well.”
Rotondo welcomes the chance to spread her message of awareness, especially to other women, during American Heart Month. This year, the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign is observing the 10th anniversary of National Wear Red Day, Friday, Feb. 7.
“It's important to ask questions and to seek out specialists,” she advised. “If you go for a routine physical and they brush you off like everything is fine, but you think something is not right, then you need to be your own advocate and pursue it.”
While in her late 20s, she felt something wasn's right.
“I was always tired,” she said. “I would always become easily winded and out of breath when I did any type of exercise. I could never run a mile and I just thought I was out of shape.”
Rotondo learned more about her childhood health issues.
“Doctors had labeled it as an “innocent murmur” that I would outgrow,” she explained. “But it developed into a hole the size of a quarter. It went undetected as the years went on and then it was discovered again in my late 20s”
In 2002, she had an Amplatzer device implanted. At the time, it was a more common procedure in Canada and fairly new in the United States. The other option was open-heart surgery.
“I was one of the first seven people in Boston to have that device put in,” she said. “I was happy that I didn's have to go through the full-blown, open-heart surgery and all of the recovery time. I was a little nervous because it was new, but willing to take the chance.”
Her recovery was quick with only two days hospitalization. She's grateful that the diagnosis wasn's delayed further.
“I was very lucky that they discovered it before I got married and pregnant,” she said. “If it had gone undetected, and I had gone through labor and childbirth, I probably would have had a stroke.”
Rotondo stresses the importance of knowing family history. Her brother and her 4-year-old son, Frank, were each born with two holes in their hearts.
“It's an ongoing thing from generation to generation,” she noted. “Knowing that I have family history of heart disease, when I got pregnant I had fetal ultrasound to check my children even before they were born to see if they had any type of heart defect. Only one out of three did. He's doing well. The holes are closing on their own at this point and surgery hasn’t been needed.”
Her mission to raise awareness will continue beyond February. In honor of her son, she's the captain for Team Frankie in the Central Massachusetts Heart Walk to benefit the American Heart Association, which will be held Saturday, May 3, in Worcester.
“I now have a much healthier, active lifestyle with more exercise as part of my daily activity,” she said. “I's probably in the best shape of my life right now.”
Donations to Team Frankie can be made online at heartwalk.kintera.org/worcesterma/heartblood21.
For information about Go Red for Women, visit goredforwomen.org.