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A Surgeon’s Work of Art

Dec 12

Posted by: ACHA
12/12/2012 2:19 PM  RssIcon

By Clare Almand

The sternotomy scar gets all the attention, all the press. It cuts us right down middle, peeking over our shirts. But while it’s the most publicly known and associated with CHD, my zipper scar was not my first and it’s not my favorite. It’s one of many scars that make me the person that I am.

My first scar was for a coarctation of the aorta repair, which, as a newborn, was easier to fix by operating on my back instead of my front. It now takes over the upper left quadrant of my back, starting a couple inches to the left of my spine and below my left shoulder and following the curve of my shoulder blade. It ends a few inches under my arm.

One of the really interesting things that I didn’t realize until a couple years ago is that my coarc scar has grown as I have grown. I received it when I was a 9-day-old, 7-pound blob. The original incision couldn’t have been more than a couple inches—a tiny, J-shaped knick in my otherwise perfect exterior. But my scar is now 7 inches in length and let me tell you, it is gorgeous. Not just because it has healed beautifully, but because it’s a sign that I’ve been a survivor for almost 26 years.

I have never been ashamed of any of my scars. Every summer since I was five, I’ve gone to the Outer Banks for vacation and I’ve never been one to cover up all that much. Sometime around freshman year of high school, this unwritten rule was established that you don’t wear a one-piece bathing suit unless you’re overweight, over 40, or someone’s mother. And while I now realize that rule isn’t true and there are plenty of cute one-piece suits, I still haven’t worn one for over a decade.

I just don’t feel the need to cover my scars. I’m not super skinny and I’m certainly not symmetrical, but I really like the way that I am. I’m special. I love being special. As a teenager, I definitely went through phases where I didn’t like the way I looked and I hated being different. When I was 22, my cardiologist informed me that if I wanted my chest evened out, there was a surgeon who specialized in making heart patients symmetrical again. Had she given me this option when I was 18, I might have done it.

But now, as an adult, I’m OK with the way I look. I don’t wish that I had been born with a healthy heart or that I’d never needed these life-saving surgeries. CHD is a huge part of who I am and I really like the person that I’ve become. I have tons of flaws and I know that some of those flaws extend from my health issues, but I don’t think I would have the same wit or the same creative impulses had I been born like the other 99%. And just like how my experiences have shaped my personality, my surgeons have sculpted my heart. My body is a surgeon’s work of art and I’m proud of it.

Clare Almand was born with Shone’s syndrome and has undergone a repair for coarctation of the aorta, multiple atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect repairs, aortic valve replacement and an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator implantation. She has a B.A. in Media Arts and Design with a minor in Creative Writing from James Madison University. Clare works at a TV production company and writes screenplays in her spare time. 

Copyright ©2012 ACHA

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6 comment(s) so far...


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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

I love this article. I am 24 years old. I had coarctation repair, aortic valve repair, asd, vsd, pda ligation, and aortic valve replacement. I have never had a problem with my incisions. I just had a problem with why I had the incisions. I hope to get in touch with her!

By Hope Simmons on   12/12/2012 10:27 PM
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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

Clare, you never cease to amaze me. I love you AND your scars!

By Siobhan on   12/13/2012 11:27 AM
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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

I know why we all love you so much--- and I remember quite vividly when you were born and that little baby had to go through so much. And those challenges have continued, but you have an enviable attitude and I am so proud of you. Of course, I'm also proud of the work you have done all along! Have a Merry Christmas and awesome birthday, Miss. Love, Karen

By Karen Darner on   12/14/2012 9:17 AM
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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

What a beautifully written article Clare- you are such a stronger person & talented writer. I couldn't have imaginged a better best friend to have for the past 20 years. slopey butter 4ever xx , amanda

By Amanda on   12/14/2012 3:56 PM
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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

I agree that this is a beautifully written article, Claire. Thank you so much. You have no idea how you have touched me. I lost my only son 4 months ago after his 29 year struggle with CHD and all the surgeries beginning at 5 days old. He had single ventricle, pulmonary and mitral atresia and TGA. He had a TIA at age 18 and then had a pacemaker after learning he was in complete heart block. I tried many times in the past few months to get him to read the ACHD blogs and articles but I believe he was afraid. I thought it would bring him hope and encouragement to see all the stories of survival. He had read somewhere that most single ventricle patients only lived 30 to 35 years. He had always lived life to the fullest and did as much as he possibly could for which I am eternally grateful. I had tried never to put my limits on him. He always had a smile and stayed positive. He hated to hear constant complainers and preferred to be grateful for every moment, every life experience. Life became very difficult in the past 2 years and he was put on oxygen. He stayed very weak and tired so he gave in to using a jazzy. He was always laughing about really being able to pickup girls if he came up behind them in his chair. Never a dull moment for Nolan! He did get lonely so he turned to the internet and tweetcaster. Only a couple of old friends had kept in touch but he made new friends and"family" all over the world. Especially close to him were his WaltDisneyWorldRadio.com family. He loved the blogs and podcasts. Actually, he had studied video production at a nearby community college and finally graduated. Due to frequent illness and trips to Vanderbilt Hosp in Nashville, he was never able to get a job in the field he absolutely loved. We fought for 2 1/2 years to get disability for him! Many times I wish that he had had more time but I know his body was tired and God took him home before he deteriorated to the point of life support. Nolan never wanted to be "hooked up to machines to live" and I am grateful he did not suffer but went quickly. His 30th BD would have been on Christmas Day. I still grieve and miss him so very much. How I wish he had gotten to know you and so many others at ACHD! He told me that he knew his purpose in life: his case could help doctors find ways to improve the care and quality of life for all the little ones coming along. I believe he fulfilled that purpose and is at peace. Merry Christmas and God Bless you.

By Debbie Rhea on   12/19/2012 10:12 AM
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Re: A Surgeon’s Work of Art

I love my scars!

By Yvette on   6/24/2013 4:02 PM

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