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VUMC nurse’s personal experiences drive her care of patients with congenital heart defects

Jun. 2, 2016, 10:53 AM

Every day, Misty Sharpe looks at the scar down the center of her chest and knows she’s a survivor. She has had four heart surgeries to repair congenital heart defects, ranging from when she was 4 days old to 4 years old.

Misty Sharpe, MSN, R.N.
Misty Sharpe, MSN, R.N.

Sharpe, MSN, R.N., now works as a nurse case manager in the Pediatric Cardiology Clinic, treating patients with congenital heart defects and working to raise awareness of the condition.

She organized Nashville’s first Congenital Heart Walk last year, and will hold another at 10 a.m. on June 4 at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville. Her goal is to educate more people that congenital heart defects affect about one in 100 infants, and is the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths.

“It has just always been a passion of mine,” Sharpe said. “I’ve considered myself fortunate that, as I’ve grown up, and as an adult, I’ve not had a lot of complications. That’s not always the case with a lot of people.”

When she was just 4 days old, Sharpe was diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta, a narrowing of the main vessel that provides oxygenated blood to the body. She had surgery soon after, but 13 months later, the area narrowed again and she underwent a second surgery.

At 26 months old, she returned to surgery to address another condition called bicuspid aortic valve, in which the aortic valve has two leaflets instead of three. She had her last surgery at age 4.

Now 28, life today is pretty normal for Sharpe. She has taken an anticoagulant drug for 24 years.

“There are still people now that I went to grade school with and high school who didn’t even realize that I had a congenital heart defect growing up, because it’s not something that’s always out there and obvious,” she said.

Sharpe joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2013 as a staff nurse in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, then transitioned to her current role in 2014. Every day is an opportunity to serve the pediatric population that she was once part of. She manages patient caseloads for four Vanderbilt physicians, from medication refills to scheduling.

“There are a lot of different roles all rolled into one in this position,” she said.

Her passion for treating congenital heart disease is informed not only by her story, but by the life of her nephew, Drew. He was born with a congenital heart condition called truncus arteriosis; instead of having the oxygenated and non-oxygenated sides of the heart, he had them combined. His condition required multiple surgeries, but he grew up to be a healthy teenager. On Nov. 10, 2013, he met up with some friends at church for a weekly soccer game when a heart arrhythmia ended his life.

He was 20.

Her scar is an everyday reminder that though she has survived and thrived, congenital heart disease is a lifetime condition that must be managed.

“I acknowledge it every morning, but I don’t sit and dwell on it,” she said. “I know that it’s a source of power for me. It tells me that I’ve overcome so much.”

For those interested in learning more about or participating in the Nashville Congenital Heart Walk, please visit events.congenitalheartwalk.org/Nashville.

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