By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Southborough – Stefanie Cappello of Southborough is proud of her daughter Celia, a seventh-grader at Trottier Middle School. In observance of the Go Red for Women campaign, Celia showed her support for healthy heart awareness by wearing red attire at school Feb. 6. She was born with a congenital heart defect that went undetected until age 8. Now five years after undergoing open heart surgery, Celia is an active 13-year-old student of various dance styles.
Her mother learned a valuable lesson after that eight-year ordeal.
“It’s important to trust your instincts,” Cappello said. “If you have a feeling there’s something that’s not right with your child, you need to investigate and do whatever it takes. Parents are their children’s advocates.”
Immediately after birth, Celia was placed in neonatal care for 10 days, Cappello noted.
“They took her from me because she had very low oxygen saturation levels,” she said. “They were going to do an EKG, but then her oxygen saturation started to rise and it appeared that she was getting better. So they canceled the EKG, which would have told us then that she had a congenital heart defect.”
Throughout the next eight years, they frequently visited doctors with concerns of Celia being underweight, weak and lethargic.
“I had her in the doctor’s office probably every other day,” Cappello said. “She was coughing and couldn’t breathe right. She was diagnosed with all kinds of things. They had her on nebulizers because they thought she had asthma.”
Cappello is grateful for a particular office visit when they met for the first time with Dr. Sachin Shah.
“After listening for quite some time to Celia breathing and coughing with his stethoscope, he ordered a chest X-ray and an EKG,” she relayed.
The EKG showed abnormalities and further testing was conducted. The results were explained to Cappello with illustrations of a heart with an atrial septal defect.
“Between the two upper chambers where there was supposed to be a wall, there was a hole – a ‘rather large hole’ is what I heard,” she recalled. “Luckily, it did not appear that there had been any long-term damage.”
Cappello learned that Celia required open heart surgery.
“To be told that your child needs open heart is surgery is unnerving,” she acknowledged. “All I could think was that I’ve slept in the same bed with this child with my head next to her chest. How could I have never heard this heart murmur? I struggled with that.”
They were referred to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). There, Cappello’s concerns were comforted.
“BCH is the best of the best,” she said. “I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to be near Boston and to such talented, gifted physicians. I honestly believe that Dr. Shah and the physicians at BCH saved Celia’s life.”
At the time, Celia was a second-grader at Woodward Elementary School. Her classmates wrote good wishes on pillowcases, which she took with her to the hospital. About three weeks after surgery, Celia returned to school.
“She really wanted to take the school bus,” Cappello noted. “I drove in my car and followed the bus. Then I watched her get off the bus and counted my blessings.”
Celia and her friend Joe Green, also a seventh-grader at Trottier, are distributing pins proclaiming heart health awareness throughout February, which is American Heart Month.
She’s also preparing to lead “Celia’s Crew” in the fourth annual Congenital Heart Walk in Boston, scheduled for Saturday, April 25. Among those joining Celia will be her mother Stefanie, father Chuck, and brother Chuckie, 9. Donations can be made online at events.congenitalheartwalk.org/site/TR/Walk/General?px=1029989&pg=personal&fr_id=1270