This summer, I went on a trip of a lifetime. I had been wanting to go to South America, specifically to visit Machu Picchu, for the past several years. The timing had never been quite right, though. Minor life events, like family weddings or moving apartments, and major life events, like recovering from heart surgery or getting a new job, seemed to get in the way. I was also waiting for schedules to line up with friends or family because I didn’t want to go alone.
It seemed like no time was the right time for a big trip, so I decided to stop waiting and put a plan into action. I booked flights, signed on for two weeks with a global volunteer program in Peru, and convinced my parents to meet me in Argentina for a week after my program. In the several months leading up to the trip, I received permission from my cardiologist to go, my boyfriend booked flights to join me for a week, and I created a general list of places to see and things to do.
My biggest concern when planning the trip was not the cost, flights, or language barrier—it was how my heart would hold up in some of the highest places on earth. Cusco, the city where I was staying for the majority of the trip, is about 12,000 feet high. Just walking around the city at a normal pace can be a challenge for people without heart problems. I was afraid I would overexert myself and something bad would happen, and that I’d be stranded in Peru and unable to find care for my Ebstein's.
What helped me get through my initial nerves upon arrival in Peru was following doctor’s orders. I did not have alcohol or caffeine, and I drank three times the amount of water I would normally drink in a day. I also listened to my body and rested when I needed to.
There were a couple moments on hikes when I really believed I’d have to turn around. But, I realized that being tired did not equate to heart problems. A lot of anxiety clouded my vision on my body’s capabilities. By listening to my body rather than my mind, I was able to zipline, hike with llamas, climb one of the smaller mountains at Machu Picchu, and have unforgettable experiences and memories.
Being able to experience Machu Picchu this summer was the greatest gift. Doing it only a year and a half after open heart surgery made it even more special. On this trip, I tested my limits physically, but almost more mentally. It is normal to have fears, doubts, and insecurities with congenital heart disease. However, it is important to not allow those negative feelings to dictate how we live our lives. The memory of Machu Picchu is one I will keep forever, and knowing my body is more capable than I give it credit for is something I will keep with me as well.
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