Melore determined to make the most out of experiences
By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann
Princeton NJ -- Four years ago, senior Jessica Melore was attending a celebratory dinner for her aunt's birthday at a restaurant when she felt pressure pains in her chest and a pain in her jaw. She thought perhaps she was having some kind of allergic reaction.
It turned out Melore had a clot in the main artery leading to the left side of her heart. Bypass surgery failed, but doctors managed to stabilize her. One of the procedures used by the medical team to save Melore compromised circulation. Several days later complications set in, and her leg had to be amputated. Melore learned she would need a heart transplant to stay alive. Because of the critical shortage of organ donors, there was no heart available.
Melore spent six weeks in the hospital, but as soon as she was able, she returned to Somerville High School in New Jersey for her senior year -- with a battery-powered heart pump implanted in her body. "I was determined not to delay anything and get back to my life as soon as possible," she said. "There was a tremendous outpouring from my community, and that helped a lot."
Determined is a word that seems to fit Melore perfectly. Throughout her ordeal, she resolved to be upbeat as much as possible and to get back to her normal life. She returned to high school in November, and by March she had a starring role in the school play and had resumed singing with the choir. She was able to get back to all of her activities except the tennis team, which she had served as co-captain.
"It's so important to maintain a positive mentality," the 20-year-old said. "I couldn't change the past, but I could change the present."
Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Maria Flores-Mills, who coordinates accommodations for undergraduates with disabilities, has been struck by Melore's outlook. "There are things she could be down about, but she always chooses to see the glass as half full, which I think is incredible," Flores-Mills said.
Melore returned to high school in a wheelchair and eventually learned to walk with the prosthesis she now uses. In June 1999, a few days before graduation, Melore learned that a heart had become available, and she returned to the hospital for a transplant operation. Three months later, she arrived at Princeton for her freshman year.
Life at Princeton
Melore applied to Princeton after a newspaper reporter suggested the school. She didn't quite know what to expect from the experience, but she has been delighted by the opportunities she has found here.
A psychology major, Melore is writing her thesis about how environmental stimuli -- such as music, light and color -- in artificial environments like airports, restaurants and stores affect consumer perceptions and behavior. She is planning to spend some time in New York City observing the effects of various factors on shoppers at department stores.
Outside of academics, Melore is an Orange Key tour guide, sings with the Tigressions, participates in Arts Alive and has taken a class in salsa dancing. She also sits on the disability committee of the Undergraduate Student Government, where she acts as the liaison to public safety, with whom she is working to improve the accessibility of campus buildings.
Melore has found people at Princeton very accepting of her disability. "I've had a good experience with students; they don't treat me any differently," she said. "And the faculty has been amazing, willing to help in any way they can."
Melore takes any opportunity that comes her way to talk to youngsters, members of the media and adult audiences about organ donation and disability awareness. She has appeared on television on "Dateline," "Extra" and "Good Morning America."
"There is a critical lack of organ donors in the U.S.," Melore said. "People don't like to think about their mortality." Melore believes that telling her story will raise people's awareness about the issue, which doesn't usually get much attention. The heart she received was donated by the family of an 18-year-old woman from Pennsylvania.
Melore's courage and drive garnered the attention of Glamour magazine, which named her as one of its Top 10 College Women last year. That award earned her a weekend trip to New York City, where she sat for a fashion shoot, toured the United Nations and met with several high-achieving professional women. (Brittany Blockman, also a senior, received an honorable mention from Glamour for her project producing a documentary at a San Francisco AIDS hospice.)
And last spring the YWCA of Trenton gave Melore its Woman of Inspiration Award, which recognizes someone who has overcome adversity in her life to make a profound impact on others.
After graduating from Princeton, Melore hopes to move to New York City to work in marketing or broadcasting. She already has had several internships in those fields, and the jobs -- combined with her television appearances and newspaper interviews -- have given her a close-up look at the media. "I have that unique perspective" of being the subject of media coverage, she said. "I know the importance of accuracy in journalism."
And she knows the importance of appreciating each day and taking life as it comes. After all, she still takes 30 pills a day to prevent her body from rejecting her new heart, and visits the doctor every three months for a checkup. Despite that, Melore is relentlessly upbeat. "I consider my life enriched by all the experiences I've had," she said.
The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications. Second class postage paid at Princeton. Postmaster: Send address changes to Princeton Weekly Bulletin, Office of Communications, Princeton University, 22 Chambers St., Suite 201, Princeton, NJ 08542. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.
Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $28 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Princeton University, 22 Chambers St., Suite 201, Princeton, NJ 08542.
Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers Feb. 17-23 is Friday, Feb. 7. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.
Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Steven Schultz
Contributing writers: Karin Dienst, Eric Quinones, Evelyn Tu
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor, Margaret Westergaard
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett