Nine years ago, I was at a restaurant with my family when I got dizzy. Then I felt a pain in my chest and neck, and my arms were like lead. A nurse who was also there started asking me about my symptoms, then said, ‘Call 911!’ Before I knew it, I was in an ambulance on my way to the ER.
At the hospital, I learned that a blood clot had lodged in an artery and destroyed the left side of my heart. I was young, healthy and active – how could I have had a massive heart attack? Still in shock, I asked the doctor if I was going to die. He stared at me and said nothing.
The doctors hoped to save me with a transplant, but no hearts were available. So they implanted a mechanical device that pumped blood to my heart. But because of complications from an earlier surgery, my left leg lost circulation and became infected. Within a few days, it was amputated above the knee.
I was devastated. I couldn’t stop thinking about having the relearn how to walk with a prosthesis and how unfair it was. But I tried to focus on the fact that I was alive.
After six weeks of intense physical therapy in hospital, I went back to school. I worried that my classmates would treat me differently, especially because I had to use a wheelchair while I adjusted to my prosthetic leg. But I was floored by how supportive everyone was.
Right before my graduation, I learned that a heart was available, though I was apprehensive about undergoing open-heart surgery. After the operation, I woke up in a panic, clutching my chest to make sure my heart was beating. Two weeks later, I went home, and I started Princeton University on time three months later.
The summer after freshman year, I was hit with another medical hurdle: I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. Mentally, I shut down. To me, cancer equalled death. I began chemotherapy, and I was worried about hair loss. But I found such a great wig, my friends though it was real. After three months, I was in remission, and the doctors don’t expect the cancer to return.
Surviving against all odds has led me to reach out to others. I work at the NJ Sharing Network, a New Jersey non-profit organisation that educates people about organ donation. I also give motivational speeches (jessicamelore.com). My message: We can’t always avoid obstacles, but we can decide how we react to them.