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A Heartwarming Happy Birthday

Thursday, September 03, 2015

By Jean Psolka-Zalek

Hello! I am writing this post today as the only sibling of Bill Psolka, one of the original ACHA Ambassadors, who are also known as Ambassador Pioneers. Bill was born with tricuspid atresia in September 1965. Already three, I thought I had being an only child all figured out, until our mom and dad came home with a lifelike doll just for me—or so I thought!

I was sadly mistaken. But how I loved pushing my new baby brother in his carriage, pretending he was a doll, until Mom intervened to slow my roll, because what a great idea it was to push him as fast as I could from room to room!

As children, we did all the normal things that kids do—play house, play outside with our friends and go on vacations—but I always knew in the back of my mind that there was something very special about my brother. I was told, in simple terms, that he had a “bad heart” and I needed to be very careful of how we interacted with each other when it came to playing games and horsing around.

The days we would drive into New York for his doctor visits was a big deal for me because that meant I was excused from school for the day. Who knew what kind of amusement or trouble I would find at the hospital, even though some visits were “uneventful.” My brother had his first open heart surgery at a year and a half old. Years later it was determined he would need another.

To me, this meant I would be riding hospital elevators much more often than expected and again, who knew what thought-provoking things I could find to do on other floors of the hospital! Let me not forget to mention the fact whenever Bill needed a vaccination or testing of some kind, I’d be the one found crying in the corner, not him! How dare they hurt my little brother, or so I thought!

As time went on we found ourselves in our teenage years, and life became more difficult for both of us, as it does with all teenagers. I was suffering with a neurological condition that no one knew anything about in those days—which continues to plague me to this day. I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t always as pleasant and understanding as I should have been with my brother and people, in general. I became detached from him and my family while trying to figure out who I was and how to fix whatever was going on with me. Yet I still knew that there was something very special about my brother.

Life went on in a somewhat normal fashion, but Bill still needed additional surgeries as he got older. It wasn’t until we were both in our twenties that we thankfully and eagerly became close again. By this time, Bill was determined and more than capable of discovering the avenues he needed to take to find knowledgeable and proficient doctors who could help him, now that he was an adult living with a congenital heart defect.

This was a far cry from the little boy who insisted that his full name was Billy William. That same strength of mind and character directed him, once again, to find the love, support and compassion of many others, including the Adult Congenital Heart Association and Little Hearts.

Needless to say, the days of my riding elevators have broadened, but I must say there isn’t a waiting room, employee kitchen, cafeteria or gift shop across the country that I can’t rate from one to 10. Never was there a moment when I didn’t have one eye on Bill and the other on “investigating” something.

As an adult I can say I’ve watched my brother become a gifted and successful photographer, musician, teacher, son, brother, brother-in-law, husband and friend. And I was right… there was always something very special about my brother!

September 7, 2015, will be his 50th birthday and it is with love and admiration that I wish him a healthy and heartwarming happy birthday.

You’re my hero, and loved far more than you know.


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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.

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