By Becca Hess -
When your heart is broken you feel limited, sometimes helpless and isolated at times. Now you may think I’m referring to being totally love struck, head over heels in love with some boy and then being dumped, thrown away like a piece of useless trash. I’m not.
Literally, I have a broken, blood-pumping organ in me that affected me since day one. I was born with complex congenital heart disease, transposition of the great vessel, pulmonary stenosis and a single left ventricle. If you’re not in the medical field that probably sounds like a foreign language and it took me about the same time to learn how to say all that than someone taking French would need to become fluent. In simpler terms I have about eight things wrong with my heart.
I won’t go into great detail but compared to most, who likely have four chambers in their heart, I only have three. My aorta and pulmonary artery are switched. I also have a decreased level of oxygen in my body. These are just a few of the problems but it’s really no big deal. I was just like any other kid out there. It’s hardly noticeable unless I talk about it and I don’t. Then there are some minute things people start to notice. Like I get out of breath way faster then everyone else, but yet 95 percent of the time I push myself. I don’t like to be limited.
My parents raised me as if I was a normal healthy kid. I never had “the moment” when they sat me down and explained that I was different, more fragile. They let me play sports, dance, ride four wheelers and dirt bikes.
My parents said, “be careful,” and they let me fly and I was never careful. I was the kid that took a detour through the rough field, who flung my chest protector to the side, who tried to jump any obstacle in front of me. My dad actually built me a ramp one time.
I’m sure they worried but they didn’t hold me back. Even though in between my riding and jumping and playing soccer I had three open-heart surgeries, numerous heart catheterizations, breathing treatments, medication, broken arms and doctor visits for whatever else was going on.
My parents worried a lot of course, especially when I was younger playing soccer. It wasn’t too long after my last surgery and with the constant running up and down the field breathing treatments were like an extra meal being served every day. My parents had differing styles, my mom was more cautious and worrisome where my dad was all for pushing me. I guess they balanced each other well. However the summer when I was 6, my dad decided I was old enough to mow the lawn on a big riding mower. I lived in Solanco at the time and we had a big hill. A 6 year old on a riding mower, plus a big hill…yeah that didn’t fly with my mom. For the most part I was allowed to do whatever I wanted to, and I did.
They used to joke about wrapping me in bubble wrap to protect me from anything I could possibly get hurt in, because I have a tendency to push myself in an attempt to keep up or even put the competition to shame. Pain is unavoidable, it comes and goes, but I feel it’s the price you pay when you’re an athlete, a normal healthy kid just living life to the fullest. And if a little pain, whether physical or mental, is the cost I have to pay then by all means I will.
They always supported me, my parents, in whatever I wanted to be a part of whether it was a sport, or a club, it didn’t matter they tried their best to be there. Playing a sport wasn’t as easy as it was for the rest of the kids my age. It was and still is a whole different ball game for me. I have to pass a stress test in order to play. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of stress you feel during your senior year of high school, working, choosing a college, filling out the paperwork and worrying about money. The doctors put stress on my heart to see how much it can take and if my heart could withstand the physical strains of a competitive sport. They hook me up to a machine with wires and stickies all over my chest, attach this contraption to my head that looks like I’m about to have brain surgery, pinch my nose shut and shove a tube in my mouth which supplies the small amount of oxygen my body will receive. That’s not all, not even close; I then have to run on a treadmill for as long as possible while they continue to make it harder. Make it faster. Make it steeper. And as I’ve mentioned before, I push myself. About 15-18 minutes is my average time. It’s hell. Every second of it, but when you love the game, you do what you gotta do.
I love those moments in softball when the zany ball is lost in confusion for just a second and then I see it coming right at me. Plunk, in the glove. I love those soccer break-aways on the fresh mowed sod when I get the ball, it’s just me and the ball for a few glorious seconds of freedom and promise. I love the one-on-one style of basketball and long 3-pointers which swish as they hit the net. But most of all I love my team. I love how we pick each other up and cheer for each other so loud the other team finds us annoying. I love our huddles, our talks and how we proudly say Comets at the end of a 1-2-3 before and after each and every game.
I’m outgoing and adventurous and no one will tell me what I can and cannot do and when they try, I get frustrated. I don’t feel handicapped so why should I or anyone else treat me like I am? The reason I am who I am today is because of my parents. They enabled not hindered me. They supported me in sports despite the medical obstacles we had to face. They allowed me to make my own decisions and taught me to deal with and respect the consequences that sometimes followed.
As tough as it can be at times to deal with this annoyance, I believe it has truly shaped me into the person I am today. Having to deal with this since birth has greatly impacted my life, the choices I have made and my future. It has made me stronger, more independent and more focused. My physical weakness has, and always will be, my greatest motivation.