As a child, I was under the impression that all kids who went to the doctor’s office had to have wires attached to them, have pictures taken of their hearts, and have to occasionally run on treadmills. Little did I know, this only happened to children with congenital heart defects—and I was one of those children. I didn’t quite understand the severity, long-term complications, and how having a defect would affect my entire life and future.
When I was 11 months old, I had my first open heart surgery for tetralogy of Fallot. Afterward, I had to visit my cardiologist every August for a yearly check-up. My parents raised me as normal as they possibly could despite having this major defect. It was not until I was much older that I fully understood what having tetralogy of Fallot actually meant.
As I made my way through nursing school, I began asking a multitude of questions about my defect. I started to educate myself more on my defect—such as the surgery I had done and how my lifestyle had been and will be different than many other women’s—and I finally began to understand the complexity of my condition.
Once I began researching my defect, I was determined to learn more about my heart and give back in some way to thank all of the surgeons, physicians, and nurses who participated in caring for me in such an extraordinary way. This all became so intriguing to me, therefore leading me to choose the field I wanted to specialize in.
I am now a Registered Nurse in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit and feel as though I have found my purpose in life. I have fully grasped how amazing and fortunate it is for all individuals with congenital heart defects to be alive and healthy. I am humbled to go to work every day to care for the lives of children and adults with congenital heart defects. I also can empathize how hard it can be for the parent and families of these individuals, as I have witnessed the challenges first hand with my own family.
When I took care of my first patient diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot, it was an emotional experience. I felt such a deep connection to this newborn. This truly motivated me to be the best nurse I possibly can be, and to be an advocate for not only this patient, but for all of my patients in the future.
Growing up, I was depressed that I was different from everyone else. “Why me?” I would ask myself. I didn’t want to be different from my friends and at times was embarrassed of my scars that would inevitably be questioned.
I now look back at my younger self and chuckle. To be different is a beautiful gift. It has allowed me to meet so many wonderful individuals who share the same challenges. I have a new appreciation for a life I was never meant to live without medical advancement.
I never thought I would find so much peace with what was bestowed upon me until I realized my defect not only made me who I am but allowed me to find my passion in life. Yes, some days are better than others and life isn’t always easy, but knowing that I make even a small difference in the congenital heart community brings me enormous gratitude and happiness.
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