By Paul Borgman
31 Jan

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The infamous unofficial slogan of many U.S Marine units has helped some of America’s bravest and fiercest men and women through the physical and mental hardships of war; however, putting these three words into practice is not limited to just America’s heroic warfighters.

Through my own experience with truncus arteriosus, I have had to essentially live by these words. During my third open heart surgery about five years ago, weeks before I began my junior year of high school, I suffered a stroke. This combination of events threatened to crush my dreams of making varsity on the school swim team, and possibly even attending college.

I was left with two options: stay home from school to allow ample time to fully recover, or attempt to recover while being in school. Faced with the prospect of not being able to attend college, my family and I agreed I would attend school as well as physical, speech, and occupational therapy five days a week after school in the hopes that I could recover well enough to have a chance at making varsity the next year, as well as a chance at attending college to pursue my dream of becoming a physician.

I can happily report to you that both things happened. My hard work paid off that Christmas, as I was cleared to participate in sports, and I could feel my motor functions returning to normal. More hard work to return to my previous level of athleticism would land me a spot on the varsity team, and further occupational therapy and long nights of studying would earn me a seat in college.

Days before I went in for that fateful third open heart surgery, I was reading books that I felt would give me courage to face the uncertainties of this surgery. One of these books was “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL, as well as numerous Vietnam era memoirs written by former Marines. It was in reading these books that I came across the phrase “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”

These men exemplified the slogan, and in a different way, those of us with congenital heart disease do as well. After years of taking this slogan to heart, I am about to graduate summa cum laude from my university and begin the process of applying to medical school, which is a thought I would have laughed in disbelief at in the months after that surgery and stroke.

Those of us with CHD are unique. We never asked to be born with complex heart problems. We never asked for a lifetime of specialty care and worrying about the next surgery. We were dealt this card, and truly every day, we improvise, adapt to, and overcome the various problems those of us with CHD encounter regularly.


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