This is my series of interviews with adults and teens living with cardiac issues – mostly congenital heart defects. You are invited to learn more about the individual behind the obnoxiously long Latin medical term and perhaps you will decide to reach out – to an organization that benefits those of us living with CHD, to an individual you were previously too shy to talk with, to a community now that you realize you are not alone, or perhaps to me if you are someone living with CHD and would like to be interviewed.
Question: Can you tell us your name, age, occupation and the type of congenital heart defect you were born with.
Megan: Megan Gilmartin, 17, I'd like to be a cardiovascular surgeon, and I was born with a clef in my mitral valve, and a hole in my upper and lower chambers.
Question: How many surgeries have you had, if any, and what did they accomplish? How old were you when you had these surgeries?
Megan: I have had 2 surgeries, and they replaced my mitral valve with an artificial one and closed up the holes in the upper and lower chambers. I was 18 months when i had my first surgery, and 2 years old when i had my second.
Question: What were your parents like when you were younger living with CHD versus their current attitude? Were/are they overprotective; did they restrict you in any way?
Megan: My parents weren't too protective of me when I was younger living with CHD. They wanted me to live a normal life like kids my age. If someone started to cradle me they would take a different approach on things so that the person would see that I was a strong individual.
Question: How did your health issues affect your school life and your social life, as a kid and teen?
Megan: My health issues didn't affect my school or social life as a kid or a teen. If anything it has given me something to talk about with people. Most people don't see my scar because it's so faint now, so when I say something about it they are really surprised and they want to know more about it and what happened.
Question: Has your health limited you in ways you cannot control/alter?
Megan: I was lucky enough that my heart has not limited me in any way. I run on my high school's cross country team and am very active with hiking and backpacking.
Question: What has been the most annoying aspect of having a CHD?
Megan: the most annoying aspect of having CHD for me has to be the medication that I have to take, followed by the blood tests I have to take to make sure I'm on the right dosage of meds.
Question: You were able to attend a camp designed specifically for kids living with cardiac problems. How has this camp helped and influenced you?
Megan: This camp has given me so much confidence and strength in life. At this camp I have learned that I'm not the only person out there with CHD, and that I really got off lucky. I could be someone who has a heart defect that holds me back from doing a lot of stuff or that needs 40+ pills a day. This camp has also taught me a lot of life skills like how to be a leader and how to interact with different people.
Question: When facing serious health issues, how do you keep from stressing out or dwelling? Do you have a strong support system?
Megan: When faced with serious health issues it is very hard for me not to stress out. I stress very easily so I usually go straight to my friends. My friends from camp help me get through health scares and so much more. They understand what I'm going through and are very supportive and I don't think I could make it through anything without them.
Question: To date, what has been the most frightening moment in regards to your health?
Megan: To date the most frightening moment in regards to my health was when I needed my surgeries. I haven't really had any health scares.
Question: What are your hobbies and passions? What kind of future do you want for yourself? (Career, etc)
Megan: A few of my hobbies and passions are running, singing and hiking. When I'm older I would like to be a successful cardiovascular surgeon. I'd like to help people like me.
Question: How has living with CHD affected your view on life?
Megan: Living with CHD has really given me a positive outlook on life. It has shown me that even if you're different, it's okay to be happy. And that you really want to live life without regrets or grudges because you only live once and you want to make your life the best that it can be.
Question: Do you consider yourself "different" from your peers due to your experiences living with a congenital heart defect?
Megan: I do consider myself different, but in a good way. I consider myself lucky. I have been able to experience different things in life, like camp, that I wouldn't have been able to if I never had a congenital heart defect. I would have never been able to meet the people I did or learn the things that I have. So yea I'm different... but hey, I kinda like it :]
If you would like to share your story or nominate someone to be interviewed for a Heart to Heart, please do not hesitate to contact me.