In the fall of 1994, Michele entered her first year of high school at St. Anthony’s in Huntington, NY. She was a 14 year old freshman playing varsity soccer, and helped lead her team on to victory as State Champs that season. Never one to not be doing something intensely athletic, in the spring sports season, Michele swapped her cleats for high tops and sneakers, and played for the school’s basketball and badminton teams. She excelled at both, which was no surprise to anyone.

Michele Obrien_badmintonThat March, after playing a hard core game of floor hockey in gym class, Michele headed to the locker room and was suddenly overcome. She felt seriously ill. After sitting down to catch her breath, she was too weak to get up, she couldn’t lift her arms, and she had bad pain in her left arm and back. Her best friend and soccer teammate Mary O’Rourke got her a Gatorade, but Michele continued to get worse. Mary dragged her to the school nurse’s office, who thought it might be the flu, and called Michele’s Mom.

Margaret went racing up to the school. She took one look at her daughter and said, “I could see it in her eyes. I feared it was her heart again.” They headed to Michele’s regular doctor, but there was a covering physician in the office that day. He said, “She’s just sick.”

Not satisfied with that diagnosis, Margaret rushed Michele straight to the ER of St. Francis Hospital – The Heart Center, where her previous open heart surgery had been performed 10 years earlier. Doctors there put her through a battery of tests. What they immediately determined was that Michele’s heart was enlarged, but they sent her home with orders to rest because they needed to wait for the blood work to come back to know what was happening for sure. That was the longest 2 days of the O’Brien family’s life.

The blood work indicated the unthinkable… Michele, the 14 year old, vision of health and fitness, invincible athlete, had had a heart attack. Her doctors needed her back to do an angiogram, a procedure in which they would send a camera up from her groin to her heart to find the cause.

The blood work indicated the unthinkable… Michele, the 14 year old invincible athlete, had had a heart attack.

Her doctors discovered that the closure from the previous open-heart surgery started to untie, which was letting blood pool inside Michele’s heart. As a result, the blood clots that were forming were blocking the blood flow, which caused her heart attack.

What compounded the life threatening complexity of what was happening inside Michele’s heart is that no other man, woman or child in America had ever experienced anything like it. So there were no documented cases in medical journals. This left her team of doctors to have to consult with cardiologists from all over the world to try to determine the best course of action to save her. They found one similar, but not identical case in Japan, so the next steps were uncertain. As the clock ticked, Plan A turned into Plan B, and into Plan C… and so on.

Michele endures a grueling 7 hour procedure… continue reading

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