Born with a rare heart disease, Cinzia Cappalla has had her heart stopped and started again (cardioversion) over 20 times and has had seven heart surgeries throughout her almost 49 years of life.
When she was born, she had a 20 percent chance of surviving. She had her first heart surgery before she was one. At that point her family was told if she made it to her twelfth birthday she would be doing great. Her twelfth birthday came and went. She was told this time if she made made it to her twenty second birthday she would be doing great.
Twenty two came and went and she started dating her now husband. At about 26, she fell at work and ended up in the hospital for three months while doctors tried to figure out how to fix her heart. They finally decided to put in a pacemaker that bought her two more years without a heart incident.
The next time her heart started to give her problems, she was taken to San Francisco for exploratory surgery.
“It didn’t work. I came back up and they said to my [now- husband], ‘at this point there’s not much else we can do. Just keep her on meds and enjoy what you guys have’,” she said, laughing and adding that shortly afterwards she became pregnant with their son which didn’t go over well with her family and doctors. One of her doctors left her case because he said he didn’t want to see her die.
A cardiologist took on her case and was with her during the whole pregnancy. She went into congestive heart failure during the birth of her son and was in intensive care for 15 days after he was born. Once she was released she was again told to enjoy her life because the doctors had no idea how long she would continue to live.
Another surgery to put in pacemaker number two and a bout with thyroid cancer were the next extra hurdles placed in Capalla’s way as she entered motherhood.
When she first moved to Sylvan Lake around seven years ago with her husband and son, she fell again. She said it was providential her parents were here at the time as they took her up to Edmonton where she stayed in the hospital for almost four weeks and underwent two more surgeries. The doctors told her husband there was nothing more they could do and that if they could keep her alive until her son’s fifteenth birthday that’s the best they could do.
With this prognosis after moving to a new town for her husband’s work and not knowing anyone, she initially sat at home, cried and thought they had made a bad move.
But one day she decided to walk to the Community Centre to see if there was something she could become involved with. She met a woman named Nicole who asked her to help out with a mom’s group. From there, she kept saying “yes” and is now in charge of the senior’s program at the centre and also helps out with the 198 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet corps.
In September 2016 she had another heart surgery and had her third pacemaker put in.
“That was the quickest bounce back I’ve ever had,” she said.
Within a couple hours of surgery she was walking around the nurse’s station telling incredulous hospital personnel that she had a gala to organize.
“Someone up there chose to give me this coz they knew I could handle it,” she said.
Some people tell her it must be nice to not work but she says they have no idea what she’s been through. Sometimes she wakes up at 2 in the morning with her heart racing so fast, she has to go through a series of exercises to bring it back down. If that doesn’t work, she has to be taken to the hospital for cardioversion. Despite the uncertainty of her health she is determined to live her life as fully as she possibly can.
“I don’t let it define who I am,” she said.
Her heart condition doesn’t keep her from doing what she wants to do and according to her doctor the fact that she keeps involved and busy may be the very reason she’s still alive.
“You have to take advantage of your life coz you’re not going to be here forever. If you want to do something, just do it,” she said.