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A Look Back and a Look Forward

Friday, January 08, 2016

By Deb Flaherty-Kizer

This New Year’s Eve, I reflected on how 2015 was challenging and yet awesome. The “main event” for me was my open heart surgery on May 21. Preparing myself mentally, physically, and emotionally took up most of the year’s first five months.

My two weeks spent at the hospital are somewhat of a blur—“by design,” as my cardiologist later told me. My three-week rehabilitation stay and the difficult and arduous recovery that followed (and continues) are forever etched in my memory. I am so grateful for the staffs at both facilities who took such wonderful care of me.

I remember back in July when I had my follow-up visit with the surgeon and he said my recovery would be “exponential.” Say what? At that time, I still needed a wheelchair for long distances and was still on oxygen. I could not envision life any other way—it seemed like an insurmountable obstacle to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Now, eight months after surgery, I am finally starting to feel like my old self. I am still achy around the incision area and I am still occasionally unsteady on my feet. Thankfully, I am back swimming, walking, and have “graduated” from cardiac rehab. The only thing I have not been able to accomplish yet is walking our dog Kovu—he’s a bit of a puller!

My recent follow-up appointment with my congenital cardiologist in Boston went well. Although there is some leakage from the new valve, she is not concerned. My color is good, my edema is gone, and I am 15 pounds lighter than my pre-surgery weight. A great way to end 2015!

Over this holiday season, I purposely kept things simple—no big tree, just a small tabletop one. I felt I needed to shield myself from the hustle and bustle of the holiday craziness. I wanted to spend quiet times with my family and friends and simply celebrate that I was around to celebrate!

While last New Year’s Eve, I was filled with trepidation, this New Year’s Eve, I was filled with hope. Instead of making resolutions, I made a list of goals.

  • First and foremost, I resolve not to take my new lease on life for granted. I will do what I can to live healthfully and purposefully. For whatever reason, I am still here on this earth!
  • Second, I will endeavor to be thankful for each and every day.
  • Third, I’ve discovered during my journey back to health that life is too short to spend it with negative people. I will endeavor to surround myself with life-affirming people and spend more time with them.
  • Fourth, I will appreciate even the small things in life. Being able to accomplish everyday tasks again was a huge accomplishment for me during recovery. Simple things like taking a shower, doing the laundry, or walking outside without the walker were milestones for me.
  • I’ve also decided to set a physical goal for myself. So, fifth on my list is to walk the GlassFest 8K, to be held exactly one year from my surgery date! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my “surgiversary.”
  • Another personal goal is to complete and publish my book about my journey with congenital heart disease.
  • My seventh goal for 2016 is to be kinder to myself. There are still some days that I don’t feel up to doing anything, and I need to realize that that is OK—I am still recovering. I need to embrace the fact that just like the presentation of congenital heart disease is unique to each person, so too is the surgical recovery process.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want to stress less, love more, and laugh often.

To 2016 and beyond! I am sure 2016 will bring its own set of challenges. But as ever, my life goal is to thrive, not merely survive, with congenital heart disease. I am sure that with the strength and perseverance I am gaining during recovery I will be able to handle whatever comes my way. May your new year be filled with health, happiness, and love.


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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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