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How Having Congenital Heart Disease Has Enriched My Life

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As someone who was born with congenital heart disease and who has endured a few open-heart surgeries, I am usually preoccupied with the many challenges CHD has brought to my life. However, it often comes as a surprise to people in my life that despite the pain, fear, and daily struggles that accompany CHD, I believe CHD has also been a blessing. Here are a few ways in which I feel CHD has enriched my life.

CHD has made me compassionate. I’ll be honest: CHD is unequivocally the source of much of the pain I’ve experienced. Enduring and recovering from open-heart surgeries has taken a physical and emotional toll on me that affects my day-to-day life in the form of palpitations, fatigue and anxiety. However, my experiences living with CHD and going through all this pain have greatly increased my compassion and empathy for others. Dealing with a health issue can be a very isolating time for someone when their loved ones can’t relate and their friends feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing it. Because of that, I am so glad my own experiences with health problems and physical suffering have given me the capacity to respond to others’ pain with the empathy and openness that only comes from having been (or continuing to be) in their shoes.

CHD has taught me to cherish life. Like other adults with CHD, I’ve been fighting to live ever since I was born. As a result, I tend to be very aware of my own mortality, having been confronted by it various times throughout my life. Admittedly, this hyper-awareness of death causes me a great deal of anxiety, but on the bright side, I really, really appreciate being alive! When going about my day, I often take a step back to appreciate an arresting sunset, a striking view of San Francisco from my train window, or a very vibrant flower. Sometimes, the scene is so achingly beautiful to me that I just feel my chest squeeze. It can be easier to appreciate something when you’re more aware that it’s not guaranteed to you, and CHD has taught me not to take my life for granted and to cherish every precious moment.

CHD has taught me to love my body. This point might seem a little counter-intuitive at first. How can I love my body when it requires so much extra help just to function? How can I love my body when it has put me through so much pain and been the cause of so many hurdles? How can I love my body when society has made it difficult even for healthy people to love theirs? My answer is that having CHD has actually taught me to see my body not as an adversary, but as a friend. My body, through no fault of its own, developed differently, and it’s still doing its very best to carry me through life. Despite its atypical anatomy and the surgeries it has endured, my heart still works so hard to power the rest of me. My body may not look like other bodies, or operate like them, or have the same functionality as them, but it is what allows me to navigate and interact with this incredible world. Observing my body struggle yet continue to press forward has given me a deep appreciation for it, and I credit CHD with inspiring this perspective.

Even though CHD comes with a multitude of lifelong physical and mental hurdles, it has shaped much of who I am as an individual, for the better. I want the people in my life, as well as anyone who wonders what it’s like to live with CHD, to know that CHD has not solely been a burden for me – it has also significantly broadened the scope of my emotional development, and I am so thankful for everything it has taught me.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: November 13, 2017
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