By Clare Almand
12 Dec

A Surgeon’s Work of Art

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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.

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