54-year-old Brenda Kapp, from Pennsylvania, considered herself healthy. She ate well, exercised daily and didn’t smoke, but she began to occasionally have trouble breathing.
“There was no pain. I had started just short of breath and wheezing,” says Brenda. “And I’ve been an extremely healthy person, so of course I thought I had asthma.”
Tests ordered by her primary care physician determined it was not asthma and a heart condition was suspected. Brenda was referred to a cardiologist and several specialists in Pittsburgh, but she wanted another opinion, so Brenda and her husband drove three hours to Cleveland Clinic's Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.
A series of tests, a cardiac catheterization and heart biopsies led to the diagnosis of a rare and deadly heart condition called giant cell myocarditis.
“These patients tend to be very sick, very quickly,” says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Maria Mountis, DO. “They have a lot of abnormal heart rhythms and they go into cardiogenic shock. Their heart just becomes very weak --- it’s not pumping out enough blood flow to the rest of their body.”
Brenda’s heart muscle was inflamed and deteriorating quickly, and she was shocked to learn she was being admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, in need of a heart transplant.
“You really have to be an advocate for yourself. When you’re not feeling well and you are healthy, you think it can’t be anything serious. I’m here to prove that there can be something very, very wrong.”
“They put me on the transplant list and I had to have a balloon pump to keep me alive,” Brenda recalls.
After about two weeks --- just as her pump was about to fail --- Brenda received a new heart.
“With giant cell, you only have 5 ½ months from onset to death and the only thing is transplant. So I really feel that God intervened at my last hours.”
Doctors don’t know why Brenda developed the condition which led to heart failure, but Brenda is grateful to be alive and encourages others to speak up when something may be wrong.
“You really have to be an advocate for yourself,” cautions Brenda. “When you’re not feeling well and you are healthy, you think it can’t be anything serious. I’m here to prove that there can be something very, very wrong.”
Now, Brenda lives each day focusing on what’s really important.
“I almost lost my life so you look at everything differently. You look at your family differently, you look at your friendships differently. You don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. You’re just blessed, so blessed to still be here.”
Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)