None of us wanted congenital heart disease. None of us wanted to endure the countless doctors’ visits, surgeries, and limited activity that often accompany CHD. However, looking back over my 60 plus years living with CHD, I have been able to find teachings and blessings.
Because of my CHD, I was advised not to bear children. But because of my CHD, my husband and I adopted two beautiful children who have blessed our lives. Having parents with illnesses has taught them to be kind, compassionate, and caring towards others. They are able to see beyond one’s disabilities and see the worth in every individual.
Because of my CHD, I was not that physically active growing up. I absolutely hated sports! However, as I grew older I realized that I could be physically active—maybe not at the same level as others but that was fine with me. I now walk 5Ks, competing only with myself. I don’t mind finishing last; rather, I am thrilled that I even finish. Finishing last beats did not start anytime! I am so grateful and blessed to be able to do whatever amount of exercise I can. The highlight of recovery from surgery was being able to walk our dog Kovu in the beautiful Pine Bush Preserve.
Because of my CHD, I was kept from my lifelong dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a career officer. Other doors opened up, and I had many wonderful professional experiences such as working at the Olympic Games and traveling internationally.
My recent surgery and long recovery taught me to appreciate each and every day. Many people just barrel through life and do not take the time to enjoy it. They race to accomplish the next item on their “to do” list, never stepping back to reflect on what really is important. I’ve learned to be thankful for every day I am given. I’ve also learned to not put off things like vacations, things on my bucket list, etc.
CHD continues to teach me—and this is a hard one—not to worry. I remember all the things I worried about concerning my surgery, and none of them happened. Of course, a whole set of issues I didn’t concern myself with happened! Yet, everything worked out OK.
I’ve learned not to “sweat the small stuff” and that truly, most of it is “small stuff.” For me, the important stuff is relationships, family, and making a difference in the world. At this stage in my life, I would rather build memories than acquire things. (Although I wouldn’t mind a new car!)
My experience of loneliness as a CHDer has taught me the importance of giving back. I am honored to volunteer with ACHA and other heart-focused organizations. If sharing my story uplifts, inspires, or encourages others, then I am very happy to do so.
Many people complain about getting older. I welcome each passing year—I continue pushing forward with joy and purpose. I want to wear out, not rust out!
No, I wouldn’t have wished CHD on me or anyone else. But I have learned to deal with it with grace, optimism, and sometimes humor.
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