2019 has officially been around for a entire week. Congrats. 51 one more of them to go. So far, this new year still has me filled with excitement for what's to come. I'm off to a good start on my new year's resolution of giving up Diet Coke. It was killer when I had Chick-Fil-A the other day, but I did it! (Who knew there were other beverage options?) So far so good but check in with me in a few weeks. ;)
It struck me in 2018, that I've been living, I've been alive, with only half of a heart for 31 years. It's crazy to me to look back on not just the past year but on the past years of my life. Often times in life, things that people take for granted, things that are 'no big deal' are a very big deal for me. Things that as a little blue and sickly baby, people doubted I would ever be able to accomplish or do. Navigating life with a heart defect can complicate things, but the drama queen in me loves the extra dose of spice I bring to any given situation. Here are just a few 'big deal' deal things that I accomplished and experienced in 2018.
Beat Altitude Sickness and Explored the Wild West
I'll start out by sharing that in February of 2018 my baby brother was deployed to the middle east. Being a military family is no joke. I thought my prayer life was pretty good until my brother was sent overs seas. Whoa. Not only did his deployment greatly increase my prayer life, but it also ruined our Easter plans to visit him. It was difficult for the rest of us (my parents, sister, and I) to think about all being home without him. So, we didn't do it. Instead we all few to New Mexico (the state-not the country) to visit my aunt and uncle and to explore the western part of the U.S. New Mexico is called 'The Land of Enchantment' for very good reason. It's stunnnnnnnnning. It's also very, very high above sea level. Oxygen deprivation is a real thing when you have a half a heart, even at sea level. So you can imagine how real of a thing it is when the elevation is far, far, far above sea level. Toss in some mountain and mesa climbing and you're in for a real oxygen deprived treat. My mom checked on me with her "How ya doing Em?", every few minutes. And my dad said, "It's okay Baby. We all need a break.", every time I apologized because I needed to slow down or stop. But I did it. We did it. The girl with half a heart climbed mountains and mesa's in New Mexico. The view at the top, was so incredibly worth it. The satisfaction at the top was worth it too. The feeling of euphoria that says "I can do anything!" was wonderful as well. Or perhaps it was just the lack of oxygen to my brain? We'll never know. Either way I don't regret a moment of catching my breathe. The views took my breath away anyways. And so did my sister when she dangled her legs off the edge of the cliffs.
5 Hour Wait for 5 Minutes with the Doctor My yearly check-ups are getting old. At least for me. At this point in my life with CHD, I could probably give myself an EKG and do the Echocardiogram by myself. When I go to the cardiologist, I have two choices. I can be afraid they're going to find something wrong or I can find the joy and gratitude in being "same old, same old". This year I choose to do the second one. And God sweetened the pot by giving me some things to laugh about. (Looking back at least. At the time I was pretttttty peeved.) Things like, when the Echo technicians spent an extra 20 minutes looking for blood flow to the right side of me heart. Umm...you might there forever looking for it because, it's not there. The Fontan Procedure I had done when I was 3 took care of that...but thanks for trying to find it more me. Or like when the Cardiology Intern (Fellow) tried to convince me that I needed to go off my heart medication and take a daily baby aspirin. Ya know pal, you may have a medical degree but if you read my chart you can see that for 28ish years this half heart of mine and I have been getting along just fine so don't come in here and try to change things up on us after knowing us for .5 seconds. Thankfully when the doctor came in for a whopping 5 minutes, he assured me that the right side of my heart was still non functioning, that I did not need to change my medication, and that he'd see me next year for the another"same old, same old". My yearly cardiology visit is the one and only time I am completely happy with being completely boring.
International Travel and Walking where Royals Walk Before I went away to college, I was afraid. I'd never been that far away from my parents, my family, my doctors for such a long period of time. It was hard for me to go and hard for my parents to let me. It was only 3 hours away and since then I've been blessed with numerous opportunities to travel across the globe. However, every time I've traveled internationally it has been with one or more family members. Every time expect for this past August. In August I traveled out of the country by myself for the first time. And I made it there and back again. (Yes, like Bilbo Baggins. And probably about his height too.) I traveled across the big pond we call the Atlantic Ocean to Scotland to visit one of my friends from college who lives there. And it was pure magic. It was so nervous going there that I slept for about 5 minutes on the plane and about 3 minutes in the airport during my layover. Once I got there, instant relief and satisfaction in myself for doing it. For doing what I could have left fear, could have let CHD, stop me from doing. I enjoyed every second of exploring Scotland and every second of spending time with my friends. I walked miles around the medieval city of Edinburgh on very little sleep and extreme jet lag and I'm so thankful I did. I traveled to the Scottish Highlands and searched for the Nessie the Lochness monster. I tired haggis and ate the most delicious fish and chips. I checked so many places and experiences off my bucket list. It was a short trip but it was an incredible one. When living life to it's fullest is something you aren't sure you'll be able to do, you take every opportunity to what you can, when you can. I'm so glad that I canned I did. I'm a Survivor Yes. That's a Reba McEntire song. And Destiny's Child too. (#mymommataughtmebetterthanthat) It's also the incredibly overwhelming feeling that I had in September when I volunteered with the American Heart Association at the Triangle Area Heart Walk. I had my heart shirt on. My mom likes to get us sarcastic/humors shirts for Christmas and she's run out of teacher shirts to get me. A few Christmas she got me a shirt that has a picture of anatomical heart and it says "I'll always have a place for you in my right ventricle." (Jokes on you though, since I don't have a right ventricle...and those echo technicians apparently.) Some people read my shirt and looked confused. Others read my shirt and laughed but one lady came over with her toddler in her arms and said, 'Him too!'. I looked at the adorable little boy in her arms and noticed he had an oxygen tube in his noes and several wires that ran under his shirt. I smiled at him and reached my hand out to wave at him. He smiled back and me my eyes welled up with tears. His mom was looking around at the information on the table in front of me and once she was done, walked away. If she saw my eyes watering I hope that she knows that it wasn't out of pity for her son. I know how frustrating it can be when people pity you. It was because all of a sudden it hit me. All of a sudden I realized I was surrounded by people, of all ages, or all genders, who were survivors. Survivors just like me. Just like her son. I don't meet many people who know much about the ventricles of your heart, and even less people who know what Tricuspid Atresia is. I've meet even fewer who have a heart defect and are living with it like me. But there, in front me was a beautiful little boy who knew. And if I searched hard enough in that arena, I could have found hundreds more who knew too. Never in my life had I been surrounded by so many people who knew. Really, truly knew. The feeling in that moment is one that I will always treasure in my little half a heart. Together we are still fighting. Together we are still searching for a cure. Together we are surviving.
There were days in 2018 that felt like good gut punch. Other days, I was wishing they would never end. Regardless of what the highs and the lows of 2018 were, they were moments where I learned (and probably definitely relearned) some valuable lessons. Moments where my faith was weak alongside moments that caused my faith to increase. Times where I cried out to God and felt like I wasn't getting an answer, and times when I saw God's hand so clearly. There were days that my CHD got the best of me and knocked me on feet. Days when the humidity was so high I couldn't breathe and even ice cream didn't help. (#summerinthesouth) Then there were days where I beat the odds. Those days are more frequent. Those days are the days I'm so grateful for. Those days are the ones I'm excited for more of in 2019. 2018 saw me travel, saw me learn, saw me grow, saw me dream, saw me victorious, saw me survive. And that's what I choose to remember. That's what I choose to take with me into 2019. To fuel me forward on the days that I'm convinced I won't make it. To push me on those days I feel like I can't push myself anymore. Every day is another chance; another opportunity. Every day is another day of beating the odds. 365 of them. Bring it on 2019. -Emily PS: What did you accomplish in 2018? What odds did you beat? What are some of your 2019 goals? Any exciting plans? Leave them in a comment below!