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Trusting Heart

Monday, October 13, 2014

By Kelly Deeny

A recent violation of my trust (minor, yet impactful) brought to the surface issues I long thought had been dealt with. Instead, I came to realize that my battles with depression and anxiety could very well be linked to my open heart surgery.

I wrote an earlier post about how my broken heart needed mending and became a reason for me to keep my emotional heart closed, even though the damage was repaired. What I hadn’t thought much about was the psychological ramifications that stemmed from the surgery itself. I wonder how many CHD patients struggled with depression, separation anxiety, PTSD, or other mental/emotional/psychological challenges—but that were never identified or treated as such.

In those days, children didn’t go to therapy unless there was a clear mental or psychological issue. I was a happy, smiling, loving child who likely showed little to no signs of an emotional or spiritual crisis. In looking back, I can now recognize feelings, worries, and doubts that I once assumed irrational could be linked back to the surgery and my sense of helplessness, powerlessness, and fear.

I spent a great deal of my first two years at doctors’ offices and hospital rooms, separated from my family and away from the comforts of home. Strangers poked and prodded before cutting me open. All of that needed to occur in order to repair the heart defect and save my life. My parents and physicians made decisions that were necessary and I trust that they always had my best interests at heart. While I understand the choices on an intellectual level, I also acknowledge that I went through an experience of which I have little to no memory. How much of that stayed with me throughout the years?

My CHD wasn’t nearly as severe as others and once it was repaired, my heart health continued to strengthen. However, I still had open heart surgery during a time in my life when I couldn’t communicate what I was feeling. How much did I internalize? What did I gloss over? After all, I was healed. I was healthy. Why focus on the past when I was a well-adjusted child? I didn’t start connecting the dots until adulthood, wondering and reflecting upon the traumatic events of my life.

My parents did the best job they could with the information they had available to them. I hold no resentment towards them, just the opposite – I appreciate all they did for me then and continue to do. Now that I’ve begun to ponder the psychological effects from the surgery, it’s got me thinking about other CHDers who’ve gone through similar experiences. How many of you struggled with issues of distrust, anxiety, or depression and attributed it to stress or life in general? I’m interested in learning more about the link between depression/anxiety with childhood open heart surgery and educating myself on the therapeutic options available for CHD patients of all ages.


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