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21 Years of Loving Life

Nov 8

Posted by: ACHA
11/8/2013 9:27 AM  RssIcon

By Becca Atherton

Turning 21 is considered a big milestone in a lot of people's lives, especially since it means you can now legally drink and buy alcohol. But for me, this birthday is a milestone for a completely different reason.

It was 21 years ago when I was born and the doctors discovered that I had serious congenital heart defects and pulmonary hypertension. I was born blue and since my mom didn't have any prenatal care for me, no one expected or had any idea that I'd be as sick as I was. Before my parents adopted me, they were told by a doctor that I had a 13% chance of living to the age of five. But after four open heart surgeries, 45 pills and two SVN treatments a day, three allergy shots once a week, five different hospitals, more than 20 heart catheterizations, a blood draw once a month, a pacemaker/defibrillator placement and countless doctor appointments—I have reached 21 years of age.

But I did not celebrate it the way most people do. Alcohol mixed with my 45 pills would be an awful combination. On top of that, my heart is already in horrible shape—adding alcohol would be even worse for it. I'm going to be very honest when I say that I have an addictive personality. So what would happen if I ended up liking the taste of a certain alcoholic beverage? It could possibility put me in a horrible situation.

Plus, the risk of getting drugged at a bar or club is a problem for any young woman. Those drugs mixed with alcohol and my health? Not a good mixture. And what if I got drunk? You see drunken hook-ups on TV shows and movies, but for me, getting pregnant could kill me—what if in my drunken state I forgot protection? Or what if I didn't bother to make sure my partner was STD-free because I was too drunk?

The possibilities of how horribly wrong drinking alcohol could go for me are endless. My parents and my doctors told me this when I reached a certain age and have continued to tell me. When I call to re-order one of my medications, the pharmacist is required to ask me if I had my monthly pregnancy test and if I know about having to use two forms of protection during sex—yet another reminder of how careful I have to be.

Thankfully I've never really seen the point in drinking or getting drunk. If you hang out with me you'll soon see that I am loud and rather crazy to begin with, so I don't see the need for alcohol to loosen me up or make me friendly. I can have just as much fun sober and then remember all the fun I had the next day—without having to worry about what I did the night before and if it could hurt me down the road with my health.

When I was in the ER a few weeks ago after throwing up constantly, I had three doctors ask me if I had taken any drugs or consumed any alcohol that could've caused me to throw up like I was. I have fought all my life to live. My parents have fought for me to live. My doctors have fought for me to live. If I was irresponsible, even just for a night, all the hard work and everything my family and I have ever done for me to live would have been done in vain. I value my life enough to not be irresponsible. I appreciate all that my family and doctors have done. I love living; I'm not going to do anything to risk that. Unfortunately, not all young teens and adults with illnesses (of any kind) have that same view.

I want to thank everyone who has been there for me and my family throughout the years. Your support, your love and your prayers have all helped me get to where I am today. It's such an amazing feeling to know that we can celebrate this amazing milestone together.

Becca Atherton was born with tetralogy of Fallot, pulmonary atresia and pulmonary hypertension. She was adopted as a baby into a large multiracial family, where she is the second youngest. Becca was given a 13% chance of surviving to the age of five, but she is 21 years old and a college sophomore at her local community college. She loves to read, perform American Sign Language to music and write on her blog.

Copyright ©2013 ACHA

Location: Blogs Parent Separator ACHA Blog

5 comment(s) so far...


Re: 21 Years of Loving Life

Happy Birthday!!

So proud of your approach to preserving your health. I had 4 open heart surgeries throughout my childhood (mostly for valve disorders) and also appreciate the importance of maintaining my health. I eat right and always stayed away from drugs/alcohol..I think we are in a subgroup of people that have a different perspective given our early exposure to illness and it makes us appreciate life much more.

I commend you for the decisions you've made and wish you much health and happiness :)

By Jenny Nova on   11/8/2013 11:13 AM

Re: 21 Years of Loving Life

When I was 21 I was told by a pediatric cardiologist (surgeon) that I was 'lucky to still be alive ', that I 'should have died during adolescence'....needless to say, I never saw that doctor again. Twenty-one years later, I had surgery (for the first time) to correct my defect. It has been 4 years since that surgery and I feel great! The truth is that only God knows how long you will live. He obviously has big plans for you, as he has for me. Happy 21st....may you celebrate MANY more!

By Susie on   11/11/2013 12:24 PM

Re: 21 Years of Loving Life

-Oh Becca,

You are such an inspiration,...HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!...Keep living and with your personality and determination you will keep beating the "ODDS".

Best wishes always!
(love all your posts) :)

By Lina on   11/11/2013 12:24 PM

Re: 21 Years of Loving Life

Becca, I want to say to you..."take heart" about your future! I had a VSD repair in 1966 (surgeon from Brazil, here teaching the new procedure), and a stroke in 1981. Abstaining completely from alcohol was difficult, especially in the culture of the 1970's. But like you, I knew it would kill me, so I have always held firm. I married a wonderful, supportive man and we enjoy a great marriage with no children. Pulmonary Hypertension developed in 2006. By "take heart", I want you to know that you can have a great quality of life despite the challenges. I'm 55 now. Take care and keep beating the odds!

By Laura on   11/20/2013 9:38 AM

Re: 21 Years of Loving Life

Happy Birthday Becca!

Keep beating the odds. Know that it is possible. I have ToF, pulmonary atresia, pulmonary hypertension and secondary polycythemia as well. I'm 48, earned my Ph.D., have a wonderful wife and joyful middle-school son. While the defects we share are not correctable, life is still a treasure and you learn to adapt. Master bedroom and office on the main floor, learn to find elevators by sense of smell and have a sense of humor about it.


By Doug Cornet on   11/20/2013 9:39 AM

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