9/10/2012 12:26 PM
By Krista McIlmoil
When I was a kid, I knew I was different. I couldn't run like the other kids, my heart would sometimes beat in a fast, erratic rhythm, and I had a long, skinny scar on my chest. I had a handful of close friends and a great family, but I didn't have anyone who really understood what I went through.
That is, until I met Gabe.
I was scheduled for my second open heart surgery, but the first I would actually remember. I was more mad than scared to be having open heart surgery. I was in the sixth grade and I was missing so much! I would be missing out on the annual sixth grade vs. teachers softball game, the "graduation" Great America trip, and the last day of elementary school.
We checked into the hospital on May 31st, 1992 (the day before my scheduled surgery), and as I was watching TV in my room, I heard a knock on the door. It was a boy about my age asking if I wanted to play cards with him. I was wrapped up in my own mind and my own fears, so I ended up declining. I found out later that his name was Gabe and he was also scheduled for open heart surgery. Our surgeries were to be performed on the same day—his was first, then mine.
Even though I declined that first request to play cards, we both came out of the surgery with something in common and we became best friends. Our hospital stays started and ended on the same day as each other's, our recoveries similar except for my inability to breathe deeply. We each left the hospital after exchanging phone numbers and addresses (since this was waaay back in the day before cell phones or pagers) and gave the promise to keep in touch with each other.
And stay in touch we did. I lived in the Bay Area and he lived a bit further south—we would call each other when we could, but mostly we'd write letters back and forth to one another. One of the first letters I received was signed, "Your heart buddy, Gabe" and next to that was a picture of a small heart with one stitch in it. My reply back to him was similar, only my heart drawing had two stitches in it. Gabe and I would talk about everything under the sun—our friends, our annoying siblings, our transition from 6th to 7th grade, and our hearts.
My friends didn't understand how anyone else could be considered my best friend, especially a boy, but what they failed to realize is that Gabe and I shared a special bond that resulted from our surgeries. He understood my fears when we found out I needed to have a third surgery a little more than a year after the second. Before I was to have my third surgery, I received a package in the mail from Gabe. Inside was a small stuffed brown bear that I still have (packed away safely in a box) to this day. My little bear went with me everywhere, even into the operating room for my third surgery! We helped each other get through tough times and encouraged each other to talk to our parents and doctors when we weren't feeling well.
Even though we lived more than 60 miles apart, our parents would drive us to see one another, but as we got older and got our licenses, we started making the journeys alone. As we graduated high school, we each went our separate ways and eventually lost touch. A few years after graduating, I found myself back in my hometown and decided to reach out to him. I went to visit him and found that not much had changed in the few years I had been away. The base of our friendship was still present, and his parents even still had a photograph we had taken together framed in their house.
We've since lost touch again, but I know that our paths will cross again and when they do, our heart bond will still be strong.
Krista McIlmoil was born with tetralogy of Fallot with a ventricular septal defect and is a self-proclaimed geology nerd, writer of all things ridiculous and an (almost) accomplished artist. She refuses to consider herself a "survivor," but rather a fighter of CHD. While she is not fighting crime... just kidding, she's working on illustrating her first children's book! You can find Krista’s other musings at her blogs here and here.
Copyright ©2012 ACHA Blog
2 comment(s) so far...
By Tim Croley on
9/10/2012 2:15 PM
Re: My Heart Buddy
Krista, I was born in Dec. of 1961. Soon after my birth my parents found out I has Tricuspid Atresia. I had my first surgery at 6 months and my second at 10 years. (a Glenn and then a modified Potts) I can certainly relate to your childhood as mine was very similar. I had lots of friends that helped me and accepted me, but probably never really understood. You were very blessed to find someone that had similar problems as you!
By Mallory on
9/20/2012 7:44 AM
Re: My Heart Buddy
Tim, I was born with Tricuspid Atresia, and pulmonary stenosis. So I have had Glenn, and a modified glenn and other surgeries and caths. I am now 27 though and my heart buddy was my grandfather..who this past weekend passed away. He wasn't born with a heart defect and didnt have any surgery until he had a defibrilator put in til he was alot older I called him my heart buddy because he knew what it was like to be worried and see a cardiologist.