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Dawn Nakamura-Kessler Is a True Model of Perseverance

Heart condition doesn't stop her from modeling at 50

When Dawn Nakamura-Kessler strikes a pose she electrifies the room.

"Fifty feels fabulous, I radiate what I feel inside," says Nakamura-Kessler.

She's living her dream of being a model, but she didn't think she'd be alive at 50.

See also: The ageless art of fashion.

Dawn Nakamura-Kessler

Dawn Nakamura-Kessler began modeling in her late 40s. — Photo by Matt Nager

As a child, Nakamura-Kessler suffered undiagnosed rheumatic fever, which later developed in the destruction of her mitral heart valve. When she reached her mid-20s, she became increasingly ill, discovered her predicament and received a heavy dosage of antibiotics. A month later, at 26, Nakamura-Kessler underwent open heart surgery to replace her mitral valve, but that wasn't the end of her problems. At 35, she had another heart surgery because of failure of her porcine valve and received a mechanical valve. Since then, she has had two cardiac ablations — a procedure that corrects heart rhythm problems, pacemaker surgery, and suffered cardiac arrest. The future looked bleak.

Today, Nakamura-Kessler has learned to live. She's chosen not to let her heart issue rule her life.

"Now it's my time, and I didn't think I'd have this time," she says.

The stunning 50-year-old is a true life reimagined. She tells us more about her new life in front of the camera.

Had you actually planned for the end of your life?

You know, everybody always says, "live life like you're dying." I've kind of been waiting to die, thinking I was going to die. Now, all of a sudden I've lived and I didn't think that I'd see 40 or 50. My cardiac ablations and pacemaker surgery were while my son was in high school and I honestly didn't think that I would see him graduate. My goal for the past 20 years was to see him graduate.

Some people get a second chance at life as survivors and get a new outlook on everything. Has this been your experience and has it made you more interested in personal discoveries?

That's why I'm going to visit Machu Picchu. That's why I'm always doing different things from teaching, to modeling, personal training to working as a photographer's assistant. It's like, what's your next act?

Next: Initial concerns about modeling. »

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