Fashion gala to benefit American Heart Association
By Pamela McLoughlin
NEW HAVEN — Christine Consiglio is just 22, but already she’s reached three of her major life goals: to become an accomplished hairdresser, to style the hair of models in a magazine shoot and to orchestrate a fashion, beauty and hair gala.
None of it has been easy for Consiglio, who relies on a pacemaker for every beat of her heart.
But she isn’t the kind of person to let the negatives get her down.
“Yes, there are limitations. But if you have that in your mind, it will bring you to failure,” she said. “I just want to not only help myself, but get a message across to younger people that you can do anything in your life if you have the desire.
Consiglio often conveys her inspirational message in talks for the American Heart Association, but now she’s also wrapping it into a fundraising fashion gala she’s put together on her own for May 4 at Bottega Lounge, 946 Chapel St. At $35 per ticket, including entertainment and hors d’ oeuvres, she’ll donate the proceeds to the American Heart Association and the Make a Wish Foundation, which granted her wish at 15 to go to Hawaii with her family.
“I’m so proud of her because she’s a survivor going way back,” said Christine’s dad, Joseph Consiglio, owner of Consiglio Fence and Construction, a sponsor of the fashion gala along with Rendezvous Clothing. “She’s put up a lot of effort for this.”
Susan Daddio, regional director for the New Haven Heartwalk of the American Heart Association, which takes place at Lighthouse Point Park May 18, said many people mistakenly believe heart disease only affects the elderly.
“It’s so meaningful for someone of that age to be an advocate,” Daddio said of Christine Consiglio. “She has so much enthusiasm and energy.”
Christine Consiglio was diagnosed with pediatric congenital heart disease as an infant and is on her fifth pacemaker. She knows it’s time for a replacement when light-headedness sets in.
Her mom, Donna Consiglio, said she remembers being concerned when she took her third-born child for her two week checkup because Christine rarely woke up to eat. Relatives told Donna Consiglio not to worry: It was just that Christine was “ a good baby.”
But as usual, mom’s intuition proved correct.
The pediatrician knew there was trouble, sent her right to the hospital, and doctors there said had one more hour passed, Christine would have died, her mother said.
“It just amazes me how God makes things happen,” said Donna Consiglio. “The doctor said, ‘This is your lucky day.’”
Christine had a single-ventricle three-chamber heart with added complications requiring a specialized procedure that had only been invented the year before. As she’s one of the first to have the surgery, the long-term prognosis is unknown, Donna Consiglio said.
In keeping with her cheery spirit, Christine Consiglio reframes her childhood obstacles as “having grown up with a different lifestyle.”
She admits the health problems have taken a toll on her body and continue to cause symptoms such as fatigue and sometimes, trouble breathing.
As a youngster, she couldn’t overexert herself or participate in sports like most children, including her sisters, and there were many close calls and hospital visits, both planned and by ambulance. She did a lot of arts and crafts, and hairstyling.
Donna Consiglio said she and her husband knew becoming a hairdresser was not ideal for Christine because her circulation is poor, and hairdressing jobs often don’t offer great health benefits. But they felt it would be “cruel” not to send her for hairdressing training, Donna Consiglio said, because her daughter loved the profession “from the day she could braid a Barbie doll head.”
It’s clear to hear Christine talk about hairdressing it’s not just about hair. She’s a volunteer for the Look Good, Feel Better program, a community-based, free service that teaches female cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“When I do hair, I’m not only doing your hair, I’m a friend to you. The best customer service is in your heart,” she said. “Your hair is not only a look, it’s a feeling you get when you’re walking out the door — it’s confidence.”
To see her daughter working so hard to put together a major fundraiser with professional models leaves mom in awe.
“There’ always a success at the end, and it’s not what you’re doing for yourself, but what you do for others,” she said.
“I’m very impressed and proud of her because she wants to give a little something back,” Donna Consiglio said. “Christine just always had this incredible personality that she didn’t get depressed. She’s always been positive and pleasant and made friends at every stage.”
While the condition has had it drawbacks to a person as young as Christine, it’s also had perks such as keeping her away from negative temptations of her generation like drinking, smoking and drugs. Her appearance is that of a healthy, stylish young person, the light scar on her chest the only give away, but a badge displayed proudly recently by her low cut top.
“As I get older, instead of looking at it as a limitation, I look at it as an advantage, she said of her condition.
“I want anyone who has a condition and a dream to always go forward with the dream and turn it into something you can do,” Christine Consiglio said. “There’ always a success at the end, and it’s not what you’re doing for yourself, but what you do for others.”