Cherry Hill resident Melissa Bergstrom calls Erlton South home, along with her husband and three children. She’s just finished up the school year as a third-grade teacher at A. Russell Knight Elementary School, and is looking forward to having a (relatively) relaxing summer ahead.
Part of that relaxation is a five-day trip she is about to take to the Dominican Republic bridging the last week of June and first week of July. While there, she’ll take in the tropical scenery by playing two rounds of golf at two golf courses.
It sounds idyllic, until you find out the reason for the getaway – Bergstrom suffers from a serious heart issue, Arrythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia, which is sometimes called Arrythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. She’ll go on the dime of Round of a Lifetime, an organization that seeks to promote heart health and to provide those with congenital heart issues with a world-class golf experience.
According to its website, Round of a Lifetime was founded in 2010 after 24-year-old golf enthusiast Andrew Maciey passed away from a heart defect known as Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
“I initially found out about it through a friend at work whose son went on a similar trip last year,” Bergstrom related in a phone conversation with The Sun shortly before departure.
A native of Haddonfield who attended Haddon Elementary, Haddonfield Middle School and then was a member of Haddonfield Memorial High School’s class of 1995, Bergstrom wasn’t always in tune with the sport.
“I didn’t start playing golf until my late 20s. I happened to pick it up after my brother played it. I grew up in an athletic family. I started playing before I was diagnosed with a heart problem, and when I found out I had a heart problem, it was one of the things that I could still be able to do, other than walking,” she explained.
“My two oldest boys are 8 and 10, and we get to play with them. I like that it’s the kind of sport you can play whether you’re 8 or 80. After everything I’ve been through, my favorite part of the game is just being out in nature, but I also like its challenges. Nobody realizes just how involved and challenging the game it is. It’s a big mental game as well.”
The genesis of her involvement with the charity can be traced back to June 2, 2006, when Bergstrom’s younger brother died at the age of 25 from sudden cardiac arrest. Until then, nobody in the family had a clue a potentially-fatal heart defect was lurking.
In the wake of the tragedy, Bergstrom, her parents and sister got complete medical work-ups to try and uncover the secrets behind the affliction.
For Bergstrom herself, nothing showed until September of 2008, when she was seven weeks pregnant with her first child. On an otherwise uneventful but warm day, she was having early pregnancy symptoms, then shortly thereafter went into full cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the hospital and medical personnel had to use defibrillators to bring her back to life.
Fully cognizant of the condition and its seriousness, Bergstrom revealed she spent three weeks in three hospitals, and left with a defibrillator implanted into her chest. Her son was born nine months later and though it was discovered that he carries the gene, he is perfectly healthy.
“Research at Johns Hopkins has shown that the more high impact a particular cardio exercise is done, the higher the risk for symptoms. Golf is perfect because it is a slow-paced, walking sport,” Bergstrom added. “Most people who have the disease don’t know, or won’t know they have it until they die because of it.”
Since the defibrillator has been put in, Bergstrom said she hasn’t been shocked by it once, and her symptoms have never come back while playing golf – thanks to strict adherence to medical advice.
Though outwardly a happy occasion, Bergstrom is well aware of the recent news reports surrounding crime and death in the nation of almost 11 million, but she’s confident in the itinerary.
“We’ll be staying at the Westin Resort in Punta Cana. As a mother of three, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some fear, but I’m confident in where we’re staying and where we’re going,” she said.
“The incidents have been centered at two resorts, and we’re not going to either. Still, the fact that they happened so close together, it tends to give one perspective.”
For more information about the organization, visit http://www.roundofalifetime.com/.