It’s American Heart Month. When I was young, this didn’t mean too much to me because my parents were busy keeping me from overexerting myself or something the doctor told me not to do. Why? Because I was born with a congenital heart defect.
At eight months old, I had open surgery for Transposition of the Great Arteries. Because I was born in the 70s, the procedure I had is now obsolete, and it didn’t mitigate all the symptoms. Today, babies born with TGA can have the defect almost completely reversed.
When I was old enough to understand TGA, my parents started telling me more about it. My congenital defect is not inherited but hereditary, and there is a big difference between the two. Because of this, my defect affects not only me but everyone else in my immediate family.
Some practitioners don’t differentiate between inherited and hereditary. In fact, in some cases, my condition would be “inherited via heredity.” However, my particular defect has a distinction. When a defect is inherited, it is passed down directly from a parent to a child. In other words, if my TGA was inherited, it would mean that one or both of my parents also had the defect.
However, neither parent has TGA. As close as either has ever gotten is the heart attack my father had five years ago. My defect is hereditary. We know that it comes from my mother’s side of the family, as she had an infant sibling who died of a similar heart defect.
This complicates things for my own siblings because of the nature of the defect. When my younger sister was pregnant with both her children, she had to complete medical testing to determine whether or not either child had TGA. Thankfully, my niece and nephew were born without it. I still have one sister who hasn’t yet had kids, and she’ll have to go through the same testing. Were my niece or nephew to ever have children, their families can thank me for the same tests.
The fact that someone in a succeeding generation could get TGA because of me makes me more than a little paranoid. Now I know how my parents felt when I was growing up. They were constantly on alert of me developing secondary conditions.
When I was young, my activities were limited by doctors, and then I started limiting them myself. I became morbidly obese because I wasn’t taking care of myself. There’s much more of an emphasis on overall kids’ heart health today, but when I was young, even the doctors didn’t discuss my diet and daily activity levels.
Now that I’ve changed my diet and increased my daily activities, I have begun to project that onto my niece and nephew a little. I don’t eat sugar, so I very rarely give them any. I don’t want them to be obese like I was. Being obese can cause things like GERD, which inhibits a person’s ability to swallow properly, increasing acid reflux.
I remember being uncomfortable because I was so heavy I couldn’t breathe. I don’t want that for anyone in my family.
Everything we do is a choice. You choose to sit still and do nothing. You choose to eat that sugary doughnut. I didn’t have a choice to have this heart defect, but I have chosen how to take care of myself. Many of the members of my survivors group are on medications like digoxin. I’ve even taken digoxin to mitigate symptoms.
These days, I don’t take any medications for my heart defect. My diet has become my medicine. I make deliberate choices, rather than unconscious ones, that keep my heart healthy. My choices also serve as an inspiration to my family.
Guest Author Bio
H. E. James, MBA
Hattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders.