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Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

May 26

Posted by: ACHA
5/26/2011 10:04 AM  RssIcon

By Christy Sillman

Patient or nurse, nurse or patient — who am I? This was a question I faced often while I attended the Adult Congenital Heart Association's national conference in Los Angeles about a month ago.

I had intentions to stretch myself between both worlds — to attend both patient and health professional sessions. After all I am both a nurse and an adult with congenital heart disease.

My name badge didn’t specify “who” I was, but next to my name badge, my role was very clear. My “zipper” isn’t that red anymore, but it is visible to those who look for it. I caught myself staring at attendee’s chests, looking, wondering… professional or Zipper Club member?

Then my identity slapped me in the face. There he was, hugging a “patient” and going on to get his coffee. I think I did recognize him, but I couldn’t be sure — it had been 27 years since I last saw him.

“Who was that?” I asked the cute blonde with her gorgeous scar winking at me.

“Dr. Laks”

Oh my goodness, it WAS him. I ran, fairly quickly, but didn’t even stop to think of what to say.

What do you say to the man who saved your life? Who performed a surgery other cardiothoracic surgeons didn’t feel comfortable doing? Who reached into my chest with his skilled hands and fixed my broken heart?

“Hi, my name is Christy — in 1984 you fixed my heart, and I’m now a mother and a pediatric ICU nurse. Thank you!” I said with my hands trembling. My husband Steve asked if he could shake his hand and thanked him for giving me, his love, my life. We posed for a quick picture as they were hurrying him off to present a lecture.

I joked with Steve that we would see celebrities while we visited LA, and with the rushed manner in which we spoke I did feel like I just met my own personal rock star. But unlike most celebrity sightings, my rock star turned around and asked me to email him.

“Send me that picture, it would mean a lot to me, and let’s keep in touch.”

In that instant, I was no longer the patient or the professional. I was the grown woman who was the product of one man’s life work. I relished that moment, and I was very grateful that I had the opportunity to thank him.

The entire conference, I was blown away by the collaboration of the physicians. Not just with each other, but with their patients.

Doctors, cardiologists in particular, can have an unbelievably large ego, but there is something unique about cardiologists who specialize in congenital heart disease. Honesty, partnership, openness and honest to goodness caring make these physicians the caviar of the medical community. They have devoted their life to advocating, advancing and improving care for individuals affected by congenital heart disease.

We met experts in the field — leaders who are directing the way we approach health care for aging survivors of a “pediatric” disease. But all of them felt more like a best friend who just wants the best for you, and each of their devotion to our cause was palpable. We broke bread, we drank wine, and we danced together.

The conference went by too fast and I learned a lot about myself, my emotional life journey, and met others just like me. I ultimately assigned my time at the conference to my patient role, but knew that everything I was learning would lend itself to my career aspiration of working with my people, the zipper people.

Christy Sillman was born with Tetralogy of Fallot with Pulmonary Atresia and now works as a pediatric ICU nurse. She is passionate about working with both children and adults with congenital heart disease. Christy writes a weekly column on her experiences as a nurse, ACHD'er, and new mother, which you can read at iPinion.us by clicking here.

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6 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

I was also born with tetralogy of fallot and had repair surgery in 1977. So I'm a wee-bit (ha!) older than you, but I'm sure feel a lot of the same emotions as yourself. For me it's mostly extreme gratitude and wanting to give back with a sprinkling of selfish bitterness that I'll never be "normal." Thanks for sharing!

By Dinah on   5/26/2011 10:53 AM
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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

What a wonderful story, Christy. Now I'm so sorry I missed the conference, because of work-related travel.

Dr. Laks performed my second open heart surgery when I was 27 in 1992; a very difficult, 10-1/2 hour surgery that only the most skilled Dr can perform. He is a rock star indeed! I'm a bit envious that you were able to meet him after so many years, but I'm delighted you shared your story. It's important to acknowledge extraordinary people like Dr. Laks and all the other docs like him that dedicate their lives to patient care over their lifetime and throughout their patients' lives.

By Tina Rinaldi on   5/26/2011 1:39 PM
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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

What a nice story. I was born with TGV and had Mustard surgery at age 2. When I was 16 and back at the hospital for a test, my mother recognized my Mustard surgeon - Dr. Castanada - walking down the hospital hallway and so I had the opportunity to meet them man my parents had always referred to as having "magic hands." It really is an amazing experience. So happy that you were able to meet your personal rock star!

By Alissa on   5/27/2011 7:16 AM
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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

Christy, Your story is amazing. Sometimes, I've felt treated like a "star" with my cardiologists I have had over the years. :) I also just read your story at your blog about soul sisters, and it warmed my heart how Lauren hoisted you up the mountain. My twin sister used to do things like that when we were growing up and we never knew why I couldn't catch my breath back then, because my heart problem wasn't found until I was 17. And when we went to Art School after high school, she carried my portfolio for me for until we got transportation to and from school. Thanks for sharing your story.

By Steph on   5/27/2011 10:31 AM
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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

I like what you said about regular cardiologists vs. chd cardiologists - my family doctor said the same thing - that the chd cardiolgoists are much nicer (and funnier) than the other ones!

By Cari Bousfield on   5/27/2011 8:53 PM
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Re: Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

I was also born with TOF with pulmonary atresia and I was also born in 1984. I have never met anyone with the same heart problem as me.

By Nikki Riggs on   7/23/2011 1:33 AM

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