Melissa Del Popolo sightseeing

Melissa's sudden cardiac arrest story

A stress test saved my life

Perth woman Melissa Del Popolo dismissed the constant pain in her shoulder as an injury associated with old cancer surgery. She even put aside any concerns after almost passing out at her gym. But after her brother, who’s a cardiologist, urged her to visit her GP it was discovered she had high blood pressure, and a stress test was recommended. It was a move that almost certainly saved her life.

Melissa with her brother

Melissa with her brother

Melissa, 54, was in fact a ticking time bomb – and her life exploded when she was on the treadmill.

“One minute I was doing the stress test, the next I was feeling dizzy. I am told I fell to the ground.

“They performed CPR on me for a short time and they quickly moved onto a defib which brought me back. I remember coming to and asking what was going on. They told me I had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest,” recalls Melissa, 52.

It was discovered that one of Melissa’s arteries was 95 per cent blocked which required a stent.

Only one in 10 people survive a sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospital. Melissa knows how lucky she was to have had her episode surrounded trained medical professionals and access to a life-saving defibrillator.

“I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had not have been there that day. If I had been driving, I would have not only died, but I could also have killed someone else.

“I had many of the warning signs that my heart was not healthy but like many women I thought you needed to look out for a sharp stabbing pain in the chest, not feeling faint or pain elsewhere in the body like your shoulder.

“I thought it was linked to breast cancer surgery as a few years previously I had a double mastectomy. I’d urge women to be far more aware of the symptoms of heart disease and don’t wait like I did and go and see your GP if you have any concerns. It could have ended very differently to me.”

Melissa Del Popolo

Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and had a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed which led to early menopause. She also had an auto immune disease that causes joint inflammation.

She says: “There is no family history of heart disease in my family, but I had gained weight in recent years due to the menopause and the doctors think it was a combination of many factors that led to my sudden cardiac arrest. I wish I had paid closer attention to my heart health.”

Unlike many survivors of sudden cardiac arrest, Melissa did not suffer many side-effects and recovered quickly. She now religiously takes beta blockers, aspirin, and statins to avoid a reoccurrence.

“I take looking after my heart very seriously. I just had a stress test and passed with flying colours which was so good to hear. Apparently, I am not only doing well for a woman who had a cardiac arrest, I’m doing well for any woman in her mid 50s,” says Melissa.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years