A Greece woman with a Mona Lisa smile is currently appearing in a new The Limited advertising campaign that celebrates female leaders.
Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana, 37, is among 60 women leaders featured in "The New Look of Leadership," a campaign that will run in direct marketing, social media, on TheLimited.com website and in more than 200 retail stores nationwide.
Zeppieri-Caruana is the founder of LupusChick, a nonprofit organization that focuses on empowering young people living with lupus and other diseases. She is Mrs. New York USA Universal 2015. She is on the board for Lupus Foundation of America Florida chapter (she moved to Rochester from Fort Lauderdale in 2013). And she recently joined the Democrat and Chronicle as the Where the People Are reporter.
How does she fit all of this into one life?
"I don’t sleep — I literally do not sleep," Zeppieri-Caruana said with a laugh. "I feel like I’m making up for lost time."
When Zeppieri-Caruana was 23, she was walking when she was hit by a truck. Behind the wheel was a drunken driver going 50 miles an hour. During her yearlong rehab to walk again, she experienced a stroke, fevers and rashes, which are common symptoms of lupus. This led to a quick diagnosis for the chronic autoimmune disease that has no cure.
"It was a living nightmare," she said. In the next several years she would suffer four more small strokes, jaundice and an enlarged heart. She had 30 hospitalizations in a two-year period. For a period, she was wheelchair bound.
"It got to the point where I couldn't feed myself, couldn’t bathe myself,” she said. She started a blog at the age of 30, because she didn't find uplifting lupus-related content on the Internet geared toward young women.
"A lot of women were ashamed to talk about their disease," she said. "Because so many look OK on the outside, they would not say anything to anyone. They were going through their own personal hell and not sharing it with anybody. The burden was completely on them and they were crumbling. I think they were looking for other people to talk to and share a bond with and share stories and just speak with someone who could relate to them."
The blog started as LupusSurvivalGuide.com. Two years ago, she rebranded the website to LupusChick.com, giving it a fun, inspirational vibe in order to reach a younger audience. The site grew from 15,000 views per week to more than 200,000. In 2014, she organized it as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in order to start funding college scholarships for people with lupus and other invisible diseases.
"It’s important to me because I had my own college career cut off from lupus," she said. "I want to be able to help someone else now."
For The Limited campaign, she found herself among more than 60 women leaders, including professionals in business, education, government, healthcare, technology and entertainment.
"It was really humbling because the people around me were CEOs and attorneys and professors at Stanford," she said. "They brought all of us out to this incredible location at Chelsea Pier on the Hudson River in Manhattan. It was amazing.”
Her stylist for the shoot dressed her in a luxurious, soft lavender sweater with skinny jeans and high heels, part of The Limited Luxe Collection, which will be available in select stores and online beginning Sept. 23. The campaign launched Sept. 9 and will continue through the fall and holiday season.
In the meantime, Zeppieri-Caruana will continue to cram as much as she can into her life.
"I think RocCityChick (her column in the Democrat and Chronicle) is the next part of my journey," Zeppieri-Caruana said. "I get to take my followers and our readers on this journey of all these incredible things that are going on throughout Rochester. At the same time, I’m getting to do all these exciting things now in my later 30s that I was never able to do when I was younger."
"I feel like my purpose is to inspire other young people that are going through the same kind of journey that I was," she said. "I want them to see that there’s so many things they can accomplish despite having an incurable disease."
Karen Magnuson, executive editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, said Zeppieri-Caruana’s success in the face of adversity helped her land a job at the D&C.
“While it’s unusual for a D&C reporter to be a model on the side, we’re very proud that Marisa is part of this national campaign. She’s being recognized because of her unique life story and leadership in helping others. She’s also a very talented writer who is passionate about covering all the great things to do in Rochester. She’s having some fun building on the LupusChick.com name with RocCityChick for the D&C and she’s receiving a warm response from readers.“
Stop by and say hi
Our Where the People Are reporter, Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana, will be at the Clothesline Festival. Stop by the Democrat and Chronicle marketing booth from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday on the grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery. A Rochester transplant by way of South Florida, ROCCityChick, the alter ego of Where the People Are reporter Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana, has returned to her home state to cover the city’s can’t-miss events. Known for her offbeat yet thoughtful reporting, she enjoys covering the unconventional aspects of life and thrives on the energy of an enthusiastic and passionate crowd. Be sure to find her at the festival!
On Twitter: @ROCCityChick
If you go
What: M&T Bank Clothesline Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.Sunday.
Where: Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave.
Admission: $5, to benefit MAG; free to children 10 and under if accompanied by an adult; includes museum admission. No skateboards, roller blades or pets, except service animals, allowed on the grounds. Bicyclists should enter at Prince Street and leave bikes at the RCA Bicycle Valet.