“So, do you have any history in your family of just dropping dead?”
The doctor took a step back and looked at me quizzically before scribbling on his notepad.
“I, um, don’t think so,” I eventually stammered back.
He replied with some sort of confused sound, before telling me he was going to call my parents so they could take me to the hospital. In the meantime, I was to go back to my biology class.
I was 13, and had until moments before, been thrilled to have made my high school’s varsity soccer team.
But now I was scared shitless.
I went back to class, acted like everything was fine, and then my dad came and got me and off we went to the hospital down the street. In some ways, my life really hasn’t been the same since.
After making the team, I was required to undergo a standard psychical. As my normal pediatrician wasn’t able to squeeze me in, I saw a doctor I had never seen before at the school’s health clinic. When listening to my heart with the stethoscope, he immediately heard a pronounced murmur and was alarmed.
Over the next few days I saw a stream of cardiologists in the area, before ultimately finding a pediatric cardiologist who diagnosed me with two valve deformities and found leaks as a result. Despite the initial panic, he assured my parents I would be okay with regular monitoring and most importantly, in my head anyway, would still be able to play competitive sports with just a few restrictions.
He did however warn that I would probably need surgery down the road, but it was a long ways off.
Except, it isn’t anymore.
Tomorrow, I’ll be undergoing a septal myectomy – an open-heart procedure that will remove a large obstruction in my heart.
And once again, I am scared shitless.
In high school, I earned 12 varsity letters and played soccer, basketball and track. I lived for sports, and was so lucky that my condition wasn’t bad enough to prevent this. However, at the end of my high school career, I was given the news that I wouldn’t be able to play soccer in college. It was devastating.
Since then my symptoms have continued to worsen, and – long story short – I can now barely make it up two flights of stairs. In 2014, I was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with obstruction. If you’re a basketball fan, this likely sounds familiar. It’s the disease that took Hank Gathers’ life in 1990, and has affected scores of others over the years.
For someone who lived and breathed sports for so long, it’s been a tough few years. I take daily medication twice a day to help control my symptoms, but despite being on maximum dosage, I still have days where any excursion is problematic. My exercise is severely restricted, and I have had some scary incidents when trying to push it.
In the fall, my cardiologist in Hartford suggested I go to the HCM Clinic at Tufts Medical Center in Boston to see what they would suggest in terms of treatment. I was expecting more of the same – Medication! Don’t work out! Deal with it! — but was stunned when they advised surgery after several tests and evaluations.
It felt like being punched in the stomach when they told me, but after the initial shock and fear subsided, I realized what a life changer this could be for me. It’s like being thrown a life raft with dramatic implications to the quality of my life. I might be able to run again. I might be able to play a pickup soccer game. I MIGHT BE ABLE TO WALK UP SEVERAL FLIGHTS OF STAIRS WITHOUT FEELING LIKE I’M DYING.
You probably can’t relate to this and have no idea why that’s such a big deal, but trust me, it really, really is.
I know it’s going to be a difficult few weeks, and probably months, but I am trying to keep the big picture in mind at all times. It’s not always the easiest, but I’m told my heart will feel better almost immediately. I’ll be on medical leave from work for the next three months (!!!) so I hope to use this blog as a place to share updates, but also, as a place where I can continue writing.
I haven’t had as much as two consecutive weeks off since graduating from college so this should be an interesting experience. I would like to tell you I have plans on mastering a new language or learning how to knit, but that would be a lie. I am planning on watching every show Netflix and Hulu has to offer, and finally figuring out what my tagline would be on the “Real Housewives.”
So, enough of my rambling, I’m off to eat some pizza before getting my chest cut open. Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you on the other side.