Nancy Capelle’s Harrowing, Heartfelt Story

Growing up in Greenwich, Nancy Capelle was surrounded by “unspoken expectations about life and careers.” Her father said, “If you can’t put it on your resume, it’s not worth doing.”

After boarding school and Boston University, she climbed the corporate ladder. Nancy rose from paralegal in a Stamford medical malpractice law firm, to compliance roles in larger companies, then associate director at Boehringer Ingelheim.

She’d reached her goal: earn 6 figures before she was 40, and have an expense account. “I thought that meant I was doing something meaningful,” she says.

Nancy Capelle

Nancy Capelle

One Saturday in May 3 years ago, Nancy ran a 5K. It was the first one honoring Sally Kaelin, to benefit Whittingham Cancer Center. Nancy had known Sally, so the event was special.

Back home in Wilton, she felt chest pains. Because she is tall, thin, fit and a non-smoker — and had no family history of heart trouble — Nancy was unconcerned.

But the pain radiated to her sides, back and neck. Then came intense jaw pain.

She googled her symptoms. “I wasted 45 minutes wondering if I had a pulled muscle,” she remembers.

When her husband returned from errands, they called 911.

A paramedic instantly realized she was having a heart attack. Nancy was hustled into an ambulance.

One street from her home, she felt her heart go crazy. “Stay with me!” an EMT shouted.

She couldn’t. She was in cardiac arrest.

The driver pulled over. He and other EMTs sprang into action. They started CPR, and secured defibrillator pads.

Thankfully — because she’s young — Nancy came out of it without being shocked.

heart arrhythmiaBut once again, her heart went into arrhythmia. To correct it, the medics shocked her — while she was conscious. Nancy compares the experience to “being thrown off a 10-story building, and landing on concrete. Or being kicked in front and back simultaneously by a horse.”

It was the right call. Her chest pain subsided. There were no broken ribs.

She’d suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. That tearing of the artery wall is rare — and very dangerous. It disproportionately strikes young women . Most die.

Nancy lived.

After a long leave of absence, she went back to work. She lasted 2 days.

“I couldn’t do it — physically or emotionally,” she says. “I couldn’t sit in meetings, and pretend they matter.” During her months away, only one thing had changed: “Me.”

EMTShe thought about what she really wanted to do. Then it came to her: Become an EMT. “The paramedic was there for me,” she says. “Well, I wanted to be in that seat for someone else.”

Norwalk Community College was a new experience for Nancy. She met a broad range of people she’d never had contact with. “It was fantastic,” she says. “I saw what real life is.”

Nancy passed some very tough tests. In April of 2013 — 11 months after she almost died — she was certified as an EMT. She joined the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps — the same group that saved her life.

In the months since, she has become a CPR instructor for the American Heart Association; created a business — Cardiac Companion — to provide services for cardiac survivors after their rehabilitation ends; earned certification as an EKG technician and will soon be certified as an EMS instructor, and is about to begin work as a Milford Hospital emergency room technician.

So what does all this mean to you?

This Sunday (May 3, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Westport Family YMCA), the Westport Weston Wilton Medical Reserve Corps is sponsoring “Hands For Life.” The goal is to train 2,000 community members in hands-only CPR, and the use of AEDs (automatic external defibrillators).

Training takes just 15 minutes. People of all ages are welcome.

Sponsors and participants prepare for Sunday's "Hands of Life" CPR and AED training at the Westport Family YMCA.

Sponsors and participants prepare for Sunday’s “Hands of Life” CPR and AED training at the Westport Family YMCA.

“We have to be there for each other,” Nancy says. “We all have to know how to react in an emergency.”

She knows better than anyone the importance of CPR and AEDs. She is proud to pass along what she knows. And she is happy that she is still around to put all her cardiac-related activities on her resume.

(For more information, click here; call 203-216-1509, or email

8 responses to “Nancy Capelle’s Harrowing, Heartfelt Story

  1. Amazing story. Amazing young woman.

  2. David Squires

    Excellent & Powerful story!

  3. Chest Pain! those are the words to use when you call 911 or arrive at the emergency room. Even if you are wrong about your condition, start by saying “Chest Pain” It saved my husbands life, thin, fit but it was a heart attack. The medical staff springs into action. He will still say hearing those ambulance sirens and knowing they are for you is the sweetest sound!
    Make the call, let the EMTs do the rest.

    • Yes, you could be making a terrible mistake by waiting to call 911, as I learned recently. I was exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack (or a possible stroke) but figured it was something else less serious–because I have a blood pressure monitor, and my BP and heart rate numbers were relatively normal. I subsequently learned that having relatively normal numbers does not guarantee that you’re not having a heart attack.

      Fortunately, I did not suffer a heart attack–it turned out to be loss of blood/internal bleeding due to complications from a surgical procedure–but my doctor and the EMTs said I had been foolish in waiting to finally dial 911. (And I am someone who already has one stent and documented heart disease.)

      The bottom line: don’t feel as if you’re putting anyone out by dialing 911 if you’re experiencing a serious medical situation. The EMTs–who were terrific by the way, as was the ER staff at Norwalk Hospital–made it clear it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      And it’s great that Nancy has decided to pursue the path she is now on.

  4. J.W. Kaempfer

    Great moving story!

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. Amazing, thank you! The Westport EMTs are true heroes!!