Tracy Livecchi was born with a congenital heart ailment.
She’s one of 2.4 million Americans living with that condition. It’s the number one cause of infant mortality, and is 50 times more prevalent than childhood cancer.
A Westport resident since 2009, Livecchi has raised 2 children here while building a thriving practice as a psychotherapist.
She treats the usual issues — depression, anxiety, stress — but has developed a specialty: patients with cardiac disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Despite their prevalence, there are not a lot of resources for people with those ailments. And though medical technology has advanced rapidly, few professionals are addressing the mental health aspects of long-term conditions.
“I’ve been in plenty of hospitals,” Livecchi says. “No one has ever asked me how I’m doing emotionally.”
As a mental health consultant for the Adult Congenital Heart Association, she is in a position to help.
So was Liza Morton, a Scottish therapist who also was born with a heart condition. When Livecchi learned they were both writing books about patients with congenital diseases, they compared outlines.
They were nearly identical.
The women decided to collaborate. The result is “Healing Hearts and Minds: A Holistic Approach to Coping Well with Congenital Heart Disease.” Livechhi calls it the first book in the world to focus on the emotional and psychological experiences of those patients.
Fifty percent are at risk of developing anxiety, depression or PTSD, Livecchi says. The book includes information on prevention, recognizing the signs, when and how to get help, and grounding exercises, breathing techniques and other relaxation methods.
There’s a chapter aimed at family members, and another one for healthcare providers, on the importance of psychological care.
“Most people know someone with congenital heart disease. But the signs aren’t obvious,” Livecchi notes. “You may not see their physical scars.”
Even many cardiologists have not been trained to treat congenital heart disease medically, let alone psychologically, she adds.
“There’s a big difference between congenital heart disease and coronary artery disease,” she says. “It can be really isolating to feel like you’re the only one with it.”
“Healing Hearts and Minds” was published in January. It has garnered plenty of attention in the UK, but less in the US. Patients and family members who have seen it certainly appreciate it, says Livecchi.
It will be in the local spotlight April 19. The author will speak at the Westport Library (7 p.m.), as part of “Saugatuck Scribes: Healing and Caregiving.” Click here for details.
Another big appearance follows, On July 1, Livecchi will throw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium, when the St. Louis Cardinals host the New York Yankees.
“I’ll have to start practicing,” Livecchi says.
It is certainly a “heart-felt” honor.