I was born with a congenital heart defect called pulmonary atresia. The pulmonary valve, which is responsible for pumping blood from the heart to the lungs, was completely closed off. At four days old I underwent my first of several open-heart surgeries. The second surgery occurred at three months old. Unfortunately, just days after surgery I suffered a stroke in the right side of my brain, the effects of which I can still see today. The third surgery occurred when I was two years old. Thankfully, this would be the last open-heart surgery I would experience as a kid, none of which I had any memory of.
While a pulmonary valve was never put in, I lived a fairly normal childhood. I was blessed with parents who never treated me like I was a fragile child. They encouraged me to do what I wanted and I thank them for that. At 8-years-old I began taking piano lessons, this is when the damage from the stroke became evident. My left hand was severely impaired and it hindered my progress. While my right hand picked up the slack in my day-to-day life, it couldn’t pick up the slack on the piano. Eventually my piano teacher confessed that she could not take me any further; my left hand simply could not keep up. This is the first memory I have in which my heart defect prevented me from doing something I wanted.
Flash forward eight years to high school when I decided I wanted to tryout for the cheer team. One result of not having a pulmonary valve is the lack of oxygen my heart and lungs receive; this makes any exercise an issue since breathing becomes difficult. However, I had set my mind to joining my high school’s cheer team and so I tried out. I made the team and spent the next year pushing every limit I thought I had set for myself. I had one of the best years of my life and thought nothing could stop me, until I learned that I would be undergoing my fourth open-heart surgery.
Between life in general and the physical strain I was putting on my heart from cheerleading, my heart was taking a beating. Doctors decided that I would now need the pulmonary valve I had never received. I felt scared and nervous, but most of all I felt angry. I had spent my childhood being a normal child, I had no recollection of my heart surgeries. How was I supposed to undergo something that mentally I had never experienced? Whether I liked it or not, I knew it was necessary. So just five days after high school graduation, I had a pulmonary valve put in.
Undergoing my fourth heart surgery was one of the biggest trials I had ever experienced. I felt so alone; no one around me knew what I was going through. But I was not alone. The outpouring of love from friends and family was incredible. In addition, I knew my Father in Heaven was keeping a watchful eye on me. The surgery was successful and I was sent home after five days in the hospital. While I would still have surgeries, there wasn’t supposed to be another for almost a decade, I had a clean bill of health and resumed living my normal life. I started school at Utah State and even meant my future husband, Tom.
A year and a half after my fourth surgery I got appendicitis. While in the hospital I went into V Tach, my heart rate was above 200 BPM and blood could no longer flow efficiently; oxygen was no longer reaching my brain. Nurses rushed in with a crash cart only to find me calmly sitting in bed; I hadn’t even noticed what had happened except for being slightly lightheaded. Through several hectic tests they determined I would need an ICD. It’s a small device that constantly monitors my heart rate and would shock my heart if I were to ever go into V Tach again, this meant a fifth heart surgery. It also meant that appendicitis had saved my life. Like I said, Heavenly Father always keeps a watchful eye.
My fifth and most recent heart surgery was just over two years ago. Since then a lot has happened. I married my wonderful husband this last fall and will graduate from Utah State in May with a bachelor’s in social work and a minor in psychology. I share all this not to brag, but to show how magnificent life is. First, God works in mysterious ways. Had I not gone to the hospital with appendicitis, I would not have survived V Tach. Sometimes the trials we are facing at the moment are preparing us for something much more important. While we may only see the present, our Father in Heaven has the whole perspective. This leads me to my second point; every single one of us has a cross to bear in this life. Whether it be a physical ailment, a mental illness, or perhaps the loss of a loved one; no one is exempt from experiencing trials. This congenital heart defect is my cross. Our cross may seem heavy at times and there are times when we may ask “why me?” But remember that your Father in Heaven is mindful of you. He knows you, He loves you, and He is always with you.
Story written by: Alex Essig
This story was seen first on Real Imprints.