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Shark Attacks, Motorcycle Accidents, and Muggings

Jun 18

Posted by: ACHA
6/18/2013 11:15 AM  RssIcon

By Michael Pernick

As a child growing up, my mom, like all loving mothers, always told me I was special. She always told me I was the smartest, nicest, and cutest boy in the world (now she looks at me and asks “what happened?”—but that’s besides the point). But I knew I was different, and not for the reasons my mom mentioned. I was the only child in school with a big bump on my chest. I was the only child in school with scars running up and down my upper body, side, and back. And I noticed that when I went out to the playground, I would get tired much more quickly than the other children. I knew I was special, but not for the reasons my mom told me.

As a child I was embarrassed by my differences. I always wore shirts into the pool because I didn’t want other kids to see my scars. I hated going to the beach. With the exception of one ill-fated little league season, I never played any sports because I was always slower and got tired more quickly than the other children.

As I got older, my mentality started to change. It began in middle school—I would make up fantastic stories about my scars. Sometimes I told the other kids I was bitten by a shark or alligator. As I got older these stories morphed into motorcycle accidents or violent muggings. But without realizing it, in the end, after I had my fun with my stories, I would always tell my friends the actual story behind my scars: that I, along with millions of other Americans, have a congenital heart defect.

Learning to accept and embrace my physical differences was one of the most important transitions of my childhood. Today I can jump in a pool, shirtless, with pride. I can play a game of basketball with my friends, and not feel ashamed to take a breather after 15 minutes. I can go to the gym without feeling inadequate. And when people ask me about my scars, I’m delighted to share the fact that I was born with a heart defect, and unlike millions of Americans with similar problems who aren’t as lucky as me right now, I am 100% healthy.

Embracing my heart defect was the single most important thing I did that empowered me to live a normal life. When I was young and ashamed of my differences, it held me back and kept me from doing what I wanted—only when I learned to embrace what made me special was I able to truly live life.

Michael Pernick was born with tetralogy of Fallot and grew up on Long Island, New York. He is currently a second-year student at NYU School of Law. He attended college at Wesleyan University and worked for several years on political campaigns and issue advocacy campaigns in New York, Connecticut, and Boston.

Copyright ©2013 ACHA

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4 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Shark Attacks, Motorcycle Accidents, and Muggings

Congratulations! I do like your "childish" stories, though!
Connie

By Connie on   6/18/2013 2:02 PM
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Re: Shark Attacks, Motorcycle Accidents, and Muggings

Love this! I am also guilty of using the shark attack story.

By Richelle on   6/19/2013 8:01 AM
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Re: Shark Attacks, Motorcycle Accidents, and Muggings

I too am now an Adult Congenital Heart Defect Patient and I'm so glad to see more awareness. I too suffered in school and actually wasn't allowed to participate in a lot of activities because the school was "afraid" for me. I also have the scars and felt the embarassment over them and had alot of body image problems as a teenager. I love your blog.

By Dorothy Farris on   6/19/2013 8:01 AM
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Re: Shark Attacks, Motorcycle Accidents, and Muggings

Hi! I love this story! I've only had one surgery and I was barely four months old, so I grew up thinking everyone had a scar. When people, especially children, would ask me about it I'd say,"What, you don't have one? That's weird." I too experienced the inability to keep up with other kids while playing. I think that was one of the hardest aspects of CHD to accept. Hearing or thinking of playing tag still makes me cringe. Like you though, I have learned to accept my boundaries and exercise within them. When I'm at the gym and start to feel insecure I just remind myself of how the people around me have no idea I have a huge scar under my shirt and what a miracle it is I can do as much as I can compared to previous ToF patients!

By Alyssa on   7/1/2013 10:02 AM

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