Learning to Live Life at a Safe Pace
8/18/2014 3:53 PM
By Katherine Buchanan
Growing up in a household where exposure to the world’s diverse and incredible cultures was a priority, exploring the world has been a consistent dream on my horizon. After trips to Belize and Costa Rica, as well as an extensive number of classes in French and Spanish, my passion for world travel has grown and evolved.
Yet, after my diagnosis with congenital heart disease, worries about how my health would factor into this dream began to creep into my mind. With open heart surgery this past December, I was worried about my summer plans to travel to Europe and future dreams to travel to more remote and physically demanding places in the world. How would it feel to fly in an airplane? What if I had an emergency while abroad? Could my heart keep me from participating fully in the abroad experience?
I was honest with my cardiologist about these worries, and he helped me to learn about my specific case and what precautions I could take to ensure I had an incredible and safe time. Before the trip, I indentified hospitals I could visit if a problem arose, and made sure we had medical insurance abroad to cover any unlikely heart malfunction.
With the cardiologist’s approval and a plan of action in place, I was ready to go! My family and I headed to Greece and Italy for the summer, exploring the coasts and countrysides through hikes, drives, hikes, swims and—did I mention hikes? As we journeyed through different villages and towns occasional fears for my heart would pop in my mind. What if I pushed my heart too hard? What if the valve started failing? Could I keep up with the rigorous pace others in my family were able to take?
I finally confronted these fears a few weeks into our stay in Greece. It was on a nice cloudy and humid day in Olympia. My sisters and I headed down the mountain and toured the archaeological site where ancient Greeks competed in the Olympic Games! We walked around the baths and temples, finally ending our tour at the sprint line for a 400 meter race. Logically, a race ensued!
Putting my heart up to the challenge, I raced with my sisters, and while crossing the finish line—though very clearly in last place—I felt like an Olympian. It was in that moment I understood that my heart has different limits than my whole-hearted sisters running beside me, but it is still beating strong enough to let me join in the race. As my breathing slowed and I shared in the post-run celebrations, I realized the importance of my worries and my backup plan, but also how imperative it is I not let my fears and heart health obstruct the travel dreams on my horizon. Yes, I will always have worries, but acknowledging them, putting a backup plan in place, and continuing to live my life at a safe pace that fits my heart is the best way I can fulfill my dreams.
Our trip was demanding in so many different ways, yielding to an unforgettable experience. Beyond the beauty I saw, touched, smelled and tasted, I learned more about my heart and my body’s new and different abilities. With this mentality I am packing my bag again to head to France in the fall. While I doubt Olympic races will be a part of the itinerary, I cannot wait to find new challenges to embrace at my own pace, as I explore what France has to offer me—and my heart.
Note: Always make sure to check with your ACHD cardiologist before incorporating exercise into your routine.
Katherine Buchanan is a sophomore at Wofford College pursuing studies in French and religion. A lover of singing, swing dancing, the South Carolina shag, and traveling, she enjoys living life to the fullest. Katherine was diagnosed with a cleft in her mitral valve and an atrial septal defect as an infant. Her most recent surgery replaced her mitral valve with a bovine valve. Now with the surgery behind her, Katherine is looking forward to exploring the world in the coming months, traveling to Italy, Greece and France to test out the newfound power of her mended heart.
1 comment(s) so far...
By Lana Stillwell on
9/15/2014 11:34 PM
Re: Learning to Live Life at a Safe Pace
I congratulate you for going forward and living your life to the fullest, safely, while you are so young. You have learned a valuable lesson that so many people never understand and end up wasting their precious time in minutia. You are doing everything so right. And, it seems, you have a wonderful family!