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How My CHD Taught Me to Live

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My 17-year-old self would have told you I wanted to be a doctor. And then once congenital heart disease (CHD) started disrupting my life, I dropped the idea. I feared hospitals, and didn’t want to be the one inflicting pain. I wanted to stay far away from the health industry. That was my attempt at avoiding my disease. It was my form of denial. I went into college an information systems major, something I thought was a safe distance from medicine. I then somehow ended up in statistics, which I again thought was inapplicable to medicine.

I found out I would need my valve replaced in March. Between March and August, I had been reading research papers about clinical trials on tissue and mechanical valves. I was surprised at how much I understood. Lo and behold, these researchers were using the very methods I was learning in school. These topics were being used to make vital, life-saving decisions.

The writer and her friend sitting on the couch, the day she returned home from the hospital.

It has been a little over eight weeks since my open heart surgery. It’s odd to think how quickly the past two months have gone by. A few weeks before surgery, I had my best friend, an avid photographer, take “before” pictures of me. The day of my surgery, I read a letter from her that she stuck in a photo journal she gifted me. She wrote that there was no such thing as a “before and after.” I was talking about my surgery like it was going to define me. I realized I was doing this my whole life – letting my heart condition dictate my future.

I’ve since come to terms with my congenital heart disease. Sure, it gets in the way at times. It requires multiple checkups and periodic monitoring. But it is this disease that helped me realize what I want to do with my life. After reading all those research papers, and even having my surgeon tell me her team requires multiple statisticians, I’ve decided to enter the biostatistics field.

One of my most distressing experiences helped me realize what I want to do with my degree. I hope to work at the hospital that helped me, and be able to help advance the cardiovascular field. I’ve learned to live with CHD. It is a shadow I cannot get rid of, but this shadow has taught me more than I could have imagined, and I am grateful for that.

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Originally published: November 1, 2017
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