The Same Heart That Could Have Killed Her (Twice) Led This Soccer Phenom To International Acclaim

February 27, 2014 by
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CareerHealthMedicineSports

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All Michele O’Brien has to do is look at the 9 inch scar that runs down the middle of her chest to be reminded of the extraordinary journey that started 29 years ago when she was just 4 years old. A rare congenital heart defect, a heart attack, and two open heart surgeries, all before age 15, were not enough to keep the soccer phenom from the sport she loves or from going on to conquer it at the most elite level as both player and coach.

Michele started playing soccer at age 3. It was all the spunky, athletically inclined toddler wanted to do, and she was good at it… unusually good at it. She ran circles around the other kids, had non-stop energy, and it became increasingly clear that her skills were well beyond what you typically see in a child her age.

Michele Obrien_post surgery

About a year into the blossoming soccer star’s career, a run-of-the-mill case of strep throat temporarily sidelined her, as it would any other kid. But for Michele, that sore throat is what saved her life and changed the course of it forever. During the routine strep exam with her pediatrician, he heard a murmur in her heart. As a precaution, he sent the seemingly healthy 4 year old to a cardiologist.

The murmur turned out to be a rare congenital heart defect called a coronary arterial fistula. In Michele’s case, she was born with what she describes as “an extra artery” that was causing her normal blood flow to be altered. Her parents were told that in order to correct the condition and close it off, their little girl would have to undergo open-heart surgery.

Michele Obrien_Age 5WYSK asked Michele’s mother, Margaret O’Brien, what being confronted with that kind of gut wrenching news felt like. She told us, “I went numb. I could hear the doctor’s voice, but his words were running together and I felt as if I was on the outside looking in.” She added, “My thoughts were focused on the chance that I may lose my child who I love more than life itself. My heart ached and the fear was overwhelming.” Fortunately, Michele was too young to understand what she was going to have to endure, which is something Margaret is still grateful for today.

The surgery was a success and Michele’s heart was strong and in great shape. She was given no post-recovery restrictions and her only requirement was annual checks-ups with her cardiologist. With that, the pint-sized soccer star was back on the field by age 5, hitting it as hard as ever. The next 9 years of her young life were filled with goals, assists and win after win after win.

Michele Obrien_age 6

that’s when the unthinkable happened to Michele… continue reading

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  • Anne

    I have known Michele since she was born. As long time friends of the O’Brien family, my family saw Michele go through the horrific trauma of these open heart surgeries and recoveries. These were very rough times. But I can say without a doubt, that this is one incredible young woman. She is beautiful, intelligent, and articulate, but most of all she is one of the most energetic young women I know. She is definitely an inspiration to any young athlete! Congratulations, Michele, on all of your achievements!!

  • Tara

    What an amazing article of truth, candor, hope, and inspiration. Michele you are a fighter in every sense of the word and challenge all of us around you to be a better person and laugh a lot more.

  • John

    Truly a great story for both women and men. The courage and strength this young woman showed in over coming her illness is amazing. She’s an inspiration to us all and a great roll model.

  • gargouille

    I am focusing on the game face and I’m just saying, that soccer ball never had a chance. Neither did the other team. You give athletics a great name, girl!

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