Kate Marra interned in a BWH lab studying the same cardiovascular condition from which she recently recovered.

In addition to her naturally warm demeanor and educational background, nursing student Kate Marra possesses another quality that made her uniquely suited for a summer internship in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. She has an innate empathy for cardiovascular patients, having been one herself.

Marra, a junior at Linfield College in Oregon, recently worked under the guidance and mentorship of investigators in the MacRae lab, where researchers are striving to unravel the mysteries of cardiovascular disease. She worked directly with investigators who are trying to pinpoint the earliest signs of impending cardiovascular issues long before symptoms appear. They hope to intervene as early as possible to prevent cardiovascular events from ever occurring. Marra spent much of her summer internship speaking with patients in the Watkins Cardiovascular Clinic about the lab’s research projects and opportunities for them to participate in clinical trials.

“I was surprised so many people said yes when I asked them if they’d like to participate in a research study,” she said. “Most people in the waiting room are enduring very stressful situations. And yet, patients told me, ‘I want to help others,’ and ‘I want to contribute to research.’”

Marra can certainly relate to their sentiments.

One of the conditions the MacRae lab is studying is a rare disease of the heart muscle known as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Although Marra’s work this summer was not related to ARVC, she is very familiar with the condition. At the age of 15, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with it. She has since recovered, but the experience shaped her goals and interests.

“I knew I wanted to give back,” said Marra. In addition to pursuing a nursing career, Marra, along with her father, began searching for labs that were researching ARVC. That’s how the family came across the work of Calum MacRae, MD, PhD, chief of Cardiovascular Medicine.

Marra and her family have been fundraising for the MacRae lab for several years. Marra’s father competes in long-distance running and cycling events, and Marra does everything from teaching swimming lessons to helping organize garage sales to raise funds for the lab’s research.

Last year, the Marras came to the Brigham to visit and tour the MacRae lab and the zebrafish facility where most the lab’s ARVC research was being conducted. During that visit, Marra had the opportunity to see zebrafish lines with the same cardiovascular condition she had been hospitalized for not long ago.

Marra and MacRae talked about her burgeoning interest in nursing and about the possibility of coming back to the Brigham for a summer internship. After her application was accepted, she returned to the MacRae lab in June and worked with Cardiovascular Medicine fellow Sunil Kapur, MD, helping to recruit participants for a research study using innovative biomedical devices.

Marra, who completed her internship in August, said she loved being a part of the research team and seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes to collect and interpret data, publish papers and polish presentations. But, above all, her favorite part of the internship was the opportunity it gave her to interact with patients.

“The patients I talked to were wonderful. I loved learning about them, and they were so supportive,” said Marra. “One of them told me, ‘You’re going to make a great nurse.’ I have lots of good memories from the summer, but that one is my favorite.”