In honor of Heart Month, I’m going to try to post some of my heart memories from growing up. I know there are parents out there that probably wonder how much their kids remember about the surgeries and procedures they are forced to endure. Perhaps this will be a comfort? One can hope.
One of my earliest memories is from when I got my shunt. I was only 5 years old, so I’m not positive how much of my memory is from seeing pictures and hearing stories, or are actual memories. Regardless, I don’t have any memories of the pain or anything negative, even though I know (now) how painful it must have been. No, my most vivid memory is of a little girl that was also in the hospital and her parents.
After my surgery I was encouraged to walk the halls. My mom had gotten me one of those electronic dogs that would walk a few steps, sit down, bark, then walk a few more steps to encourage me to do this walking. I spent a LOT of time in the hallway. As a matter of fact, that dog walked so much the fabric on its feet wore through! On my walks we always passed by the room of another patient, Rebecca.
Rebecca was 2 or 3 years old and had been hit by a car in a parking lot. Her legs were crushed, so she couldn’t walk the halls. But her parents, scared as I know they must have been, were so positive and upbeat (from my 5 year old perspective). My mom became friends with them, of course, and every time we made our rounds we would stop and visit with Rebecca and her parents. As we would leave her parents would peek their heads out of the doorway, one above the other, and say “See you later alligator!” “After awhile crocodile!” I loved that. And now, any time I hear that phrase I think of Rebecca and her parents.
I’ve heard many people say they were traumatized by their early surgeries. And I can honestly say that I have no bad memories from that visit. I don’t know if it was the hospital staff or my parents that made it possible for me to only remember the good things. My mom actually took pictures and made a scrapbook that I was able to look back on and I’m sure that helped shaped my memories. I still like to pull out the scrapbook once in awhile (though it’s seriously falling apart now).
When people think of heart disease, many make the mistake of thinking it effects only the old. And those that remember that the number one birth defect, effecting 1 in 100 births, effects the heart tend to only think of the babies and very young. But those babies are now (thanks to medical technology) living to be adults. And we have a whole new set of problems. We have adult problems that the pediatric cardiologists don’t understand and congenital problems that the adult cardiologists don’t understand. A new specialty is forming in Adults with Congenital Heart Defects. But it’s still very new and there are many that have to travel out of state to get this specialized care.
Supporting the American Heart Association and other organizations (such as Adult Congenital Heart Association) will help this specialty grow as the population of adults with congenital heart defects continues to climb.