If given the opportunity, I would not give up my heart defect. That might seem silly to some—why wouldn’t I take a chance to be completely “normal”? To be able to run, play contact sports, and not have to worry about medications? No monthly blood draws or the extra worry every time I fall because of blood thinners? Why am I thankful for my heart defect? Well, let me tell you:
8. Appreciation for the medical field: Let’s be honest—without doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and many others in the medical field, many heart patients wouldn’t be alive today. I cannot begin to stress how much respect and appreciation I have for those individuals. Without my heart defect, I never would have met these amazing, innovative practitioners and everyday superheroes.
7. Opportunities: Without my heart condition, who knows if I would have found my love for theater and music? I may not have discovered my love for working with kids in my middle school’s autistic classroom if I had had to take gym classes. The opportunities definitely outweigh the costs.
6. Living every day to the fullest: Over the past couple years, I’ve tried my hardest to make that statement my motto—to not take things for granted or think “what’s next?” Like many of us, I’ve lost some people close to me to heart disease. Some far too young, others who had lived long and fulfilling lives. I appreciate every day and attempt to live it to the fullest because of the lessons I’ve learned from the people I’ve lost.
5. Strength and coping: As many lessons as I’ve learned, it still sucks, losing at least one person every year over the past eight years. But it has taught me how to cope and when to ask for help. I’ve talked to professionals, friends and family, journaled, even decided to take a course on grief and loss in grad school because I recognized that this topic would play a significant role in my career as a social worker. I’ve learned to not keep it all inside, that it is okay to break down in safe spaces. I’ve learned to put things into perspective. No matter what, there is always someone enduring a greater battle.
4. Forced out of my comfort zone: You may never know how much something is going to change your life until you jump into it. I think that my heart defect has made me a more social person by showing me all the fantastic people it has allowed me to meet.
3. Battle scar: I am proud of my scar. Always have been, always will be. I’m lucky to have been encouraged to be proud of my scar. I have never been teased about it, and would probably feel differently if I had been. I never felt the need to cover it up or hide it. I was 12 when I first attended Camp Odayin for kids with heart conditions, and during our first time swimming in the lake, it was amazing to see other kids my age with scars running down their chests exactly the way that mine does. I feel lucky to have my scar as a daily reminder of everything that I have been through.
2. My heart family: My heart is so full of 12 years of memories with my Camp Odayin family. Five years as a camper, six years as a counselor, and many more to come. From day one, I knew that my life would never be the same. I have something that helps me push through every day of my life.
1. Passion and determination: Without my heart defect, I wouldn’t have found my calling. I want to help improve the lives of the next generation of kids with serious illnesses because of the people who have impacted mine. I want to help them recognize what they can do, not what they can’t. I want to help them find their own “heart families.”
And because of my heart condition, I will never give up.
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