“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” ~Joshua J. Marine
My name is Monique Gesualdi, and I usually go by Mo or some form of it (Moski, Mojo, Moniqua, Molicious, Mosiff, Mocephus, it goes on and on, take your pick!) I am originally from Connecticut, but I have also lived in the OBX, St. Augustine, FL and Greenville, SC. I am fortunate to be blessed with athletic genes, and so sports have always been a major part of my life; especially golf. I also enjoy music, drawing, writing (especially rhymes) to name a few of my other interests.
I was an IB (International Baccalaureate) student at Allen D. Nease High School in St. Augustine, FL and went on to attend Furman University in Greenville, SC on a full-scholarship to play women’s golf in 2003. I had a very active college career juggling between being a student, a Division I athlete, and being the intramurals director of Delta Gamma. I received my BA in Communication Studies from Furman University in 2007, but instead of returning home to Connecticut or Florida, I made Greenville, SC my permanent home.
Some of my golf accomplishments include: Back-to-back wins at the Women’s Western Junior (2002 & 2003),a full scholarship to Furman University to play Division 1 Women’s Golf which included a team and individual victory at the 2004 Lady Paladin Classic (69-71-74=213 (share 36-hole record). 2004 Hooter’s Collegiate Match Play Championship, defeated #1 ranked Elizabeth Janangelo, Duke, 3 & 1. Jacksonville’s First Coast 2-time Player of the Year, FCWT Player of the Year and 3-time All-American recipient, AJGA Honorable Mention, SoCon First Team All-American, and recognized as “Female Athlete of the Decade” for girl’s golf featured in the St. Augustine Record, July 2010.
After graduating from Furman, I remained in Greenville, SC up until April of 2012. I spent almost five years trying to figure out my place in life. I was working, but by no means had settled on a career. I was pretty clueless as to what I really wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. For a majority of the time, I was working a minimum of two jobs at a time, sometimes three jobs. When I wasn’t working, I was usually 9Rounding (cardio kickboxing), playing co-ed soccer, or engaging in a very active social life. Since I was a kid I have always had big dreams, but at this point in my life I was lacking the burning desire and true motivation to step out of my comfort zone and actually pursue, well, anything. I felt stuck, with no place to go. It seemed like I had just graduated from college, I blinked my eyes, and five years had disappeared and I nothing to really show for it.
Luckily, there were some opportunities back in Florida for me. My plan was to move back to Florida, start working at my mom’s real estate office part-time, and spend the rest of my time pursuing some career goals of mine. I was anxiously wanting to get back to my golf roots and what place better to do that than Florida? I had been desperately needing a change of scenery for a long time, so I finally decided I have to do it now, or there is a chance I never will. I didn’t want to feel any more “stuck” than I already was.
A couple of weeks prior to my move-date, I started feeling under the weather and felt very ill with flu-like symptoms on-and-off. I didn’t think anything of it and dismissed it rather quickly. I’ve never been one to really ever accept that I’m sick, take medicine, or go see a doctor; I usually just let things run it’s course. What I had thought was possibly the flu, was causing sudden changes in my skin complexion, slightly different from my somewhat natural olive Italian coloring. Then I noticed the whites of my eyes were no longer white, but were rather very yellow, as yellow as a banana peel. I became extremely lethargic, and struggled to find the energy to even leave my bed. I looked up some information online, but you know how the internet can sometimes turn something like a splinter into a deadly infectious disease. Finally, after several of my friends expressed their concern for my well-being, I reluctantly went to seek medical attention.
The transition quickly went from the CVS Minute Clinic, to the ER, to being admitted for 16 days at Greenville Memorial. My original plan of moving to Florida quickly came to a hault. After being diagnosed with multiple diseases, I was left with a very short list of viable options as to what I could do. After much contemplation, I finally decided it would be best for my health to move back to my original stomping grounds, Connecticut. Not only would I be located in the vicinity of several top-notch medical facilities, including Yale-New Haven Hospital, but nearly 90% of my family resided in Connecticut. If I had not decided to move up north, with my wonderful family by my side, on-top of receiving the absolute best medical attention I could possible receive at Yale, it is almost a certainty that I would not be alive right now.
Long story short(er), I was admitted to Yale Medical on April 24, 2012 where I had to undergo an intense medical evaluation. During my liver biopsy, my liver was accidentally “nicked” and I was suffering internal bleeding that had gone unnoticed. I got up to use the restroom one night, and on the way, I just collapsed as I heard “Code Blue! Code Blue!” being yelled and don’t remember anything afterwards. I had been bleeding internally since my biopsy, resulting in my collapse, and shortly after losing my pulse four-times in a matter of three hours. The doctors told my family I needed an organ donation in the next 24-48 hours in-order to survive. Time was completely against me, but before the end of the day, my doctors got word there might be a liver match for me and started to prep for a possible transplant. That evening, very late in the evening (officially early morning) on May 3, 2012, I was recipient of a miraculous, life-saving liver transplant!
While the transplant was a great success, the worst had actually yet to come. Within a few days of my transplant, I starting having the worst pounding headache you could imagine, I started seeing flashing colored lights, and hearing these voices resilient voices that would not let up. Shortly after, I check-out mentally, as in “Knock knock,” “Whose there?” and nobody was home. My doctors discovered I had acquired an extremely fatal fungal infection in my brain (because of immunosuppression) called invasive aspergillosis. My only option for survival was to have my brain operated on, so just weeks after my liver transplant I underwent not one, but TWO very major brain surgeries just for any hope of survival. Despite trying to comprehend the severity of three major surgeries that were all with-in a matter of a six-week time span, I have had to wrap my head around (no pun intended) the fact that each of these back-to-back-to-back surgeries were to save my life.
After a total of 52 days consecutive days under the care of the Yale Medical staff, I was finally released June 14, 2012. Unfortunately, I wasn’t completely off-the-hook yet, as a tiny bit of the infection remained. For seven-weeks I was hooked up to an IV machine that my grandfather learned to administered for over six hours a night, seven days a week. My new liver has been treating me great, and the infection in my brain hasn’t shown his ugly face for months. I suppose a 6-week at-home dual treatment of a take-home IV of the brutal Amphoteracin B and 12 pills of Voriconazole a day (which I still currently take) put “the beast” to sleep; and hopefully for good!
Unexpected by my friends, my family, and even my medical team, here I am, ALIVE and the BEST I have ever felt (minus a few permanent set-backs), currently having an outstanding recovery! In result of my brain infection and surgeries, I know have what is called Total Right Homonymous Hemianopia (HH), and I have virtually no peripheral vision out of the right out of either of my eyes resulting in a significant blind spot to my right side.
After undergoing a year of specialized visual therapy with April Banores at Dr. Randy Shulman’s office with Eye Care Associates, and doing daily visual therapy exercises for one-year, I was able to regain enough peripheral vision to seek out a Driver Rehabilitation program at Kneplar Driving School in Monroe, CT. I received extensive driving re-training, accompanied with visual compensation skills I learned at visual therapy to deal with my visual loss. I passed my driving test, and FINALLY regained my privileges to drive after two very long and grueling years of being a freedom-less passenger. Once I started driving, I was able to slowly get my way back into the workforce, starting off by volunteering and working junior golf camps and First Tee clinics at Richter Park in Danbury, and slowly adding on more work and responsibilities testing my stamina and ability to perform in a working environment again. As the weather got cooler I added another job at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the golf department as a Golf Sales Associate. While I Dick’s I began my pursuits to become a certified LPGA Golf Instructor, passing my Player’s Ability Test for both the PGA & LPGA and and by the following spring I had landed my first real career job post-transplant, as an Assistant Golf Professional at Tamarack Country Club. I am currently an LPGA Class B Golf Professional, in pursuit to earning my Class A status in the fall of 2016!
Throughout my unbelievable medical journey, my family and I have endured many obstacles and emotions that I never in my life could have imagined happening, EVER, let alone at the young age of 26. Having your life flash before your eyes gives you a lot of perspective, especially the little things you often overlook or take for granted. in your life. I wanted to share my story with you in hopes that maybe you will realize that anything can happen in this crazy world we live in, both the horrible and the miraculous. It happened to me, so it surely can happen to anyone else, including you. Whatever challenges you may face in life, if you want to prevail, you have to put the excuses aside, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to fight for whatever it is you want. In my particular case, I was fighting for my life, and then once healthy, I had to fight for my independence, my freedom, and my life back.
My amazing recovery could not have been made possible without my family, friends, and an incredible medical staff all of whom did everything in their power to get me back on my feet. I owe this second chance to my anonymous donor. I do not know who they are or their story, but I owe them my life each and every day. While I am not able to personally thank them, the overwhelming gratitude I have for them I pour into my passions. I have created the Just Say Mo Foundation as a way for me to give thanks to my anonymous donor. With our efforts, the Just Say Mo Foundation will raise funds and awareness for organ donation with the hope that many more lives will be saved just like Mo’s was.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson