Life is a Gift
Hi… I am Jamie… one of the founders of 2HEARTS. For those of you who have attended a 2HEARTS event before.. or who personally know heather and I… you know heather is the heart and passion (and often the tears) of this organization. I am more of the logistical, behind the scenes, numbers, excel sheet type of person. She’s the one that delivers the emotion. But today is a bit different. As you saw in the video, I have not had the most fun start to 2017. 5 weeks and 2 days ago (not that I am counting ) I underwent a pretty complicated open heart surgery. It was my 4th open heart surgery.. my first one in 20 years.
And to be honest is was a little shock to the system. I was not sick.. I was not tired.. I was actually in the best shape of my life. I was working out every day… In the last few years, I have done 9 half marathons my fastest being less than a year ago. And the amount of running I was doing, was nothing compared to the amount of running I did to keep up with my two little girls. I didn’t take a single medicine.
But I needed Open Heart Surgery. I had a leak that could overtime destroy my heart if not fixed. I needed the surgery now, so that in 15 years I would still be alive. Even though I have dedicated so much of my time to 2HEARTS and to helping children with CHD, I myself forgot what it was actually like to live with CHD. It was a wake up call – a reminder that this is a life long illness that takes life-long care. And it reminded me even more why we formed 2HEARTS. To make sure that every teen with CHD understands the importance of lifetime and follow up care. And that every teen knows how to take care of themselves… not just today but for all of their tomorrows.
Open heart surgery is physically painful… believe me there is no denying that. Having your sternum and the muscles attached to it cut open does not feel good. But honestly, you start forgetting the physical pain. Even 5 weeks out the memory of the physical pain has faded. You forget the first time you felt that anesthesia wear off and your chest cavity start to pound… you forget the pain of the chest tubes being ripped out of your body.. . or the pain the first time you sneeze …. The memory of that pain fades. But the emotional pain… I am not sure I will ever be able to forget that… get those memories out of my head.
Standing in my living room, giving my 4 year old a kiss and hug and telling her I will see her in a couple of days and then getting in the car to drive to my surgery.. is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Knowing that the outcome of this surgery not just changes my life, but if not successful will forever change hers. Or the memory of giving my husband and mom a hug and kiss goodbye before being wheeled off to surgery. Those memories and the thoughts racing through my head at those moments have not faded. They continue to fill my head often.
But through all the physical and emotional pain… I have never been more grateful to be alive…truly… It is hard to even express how happy I am to be back to my life and my family. And how happy I am to be standing here today. The first thing I said when they took my breathing tube out is… I am so happy right now.. I am just so happy to be alive … the nurses, my husband and mom were pretty much all laughing at me. But despite my tremendous amount of gratitude and love for life right now…. I of course still have some super low moments. The tears that no one sees when I am alone… when I get mad that I have to deal with this. The “why me” moments. The moments when I am surrounded with a group of friends talking… and get overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and jealousy. What I would give to feel normal like the people around me. Let me tell you.. it takes strength to move past those moments. To not play the victim… to take a deep breath and hold your head high.
To the 2HEARTS teens that are here… you are special.. really special… and not because you have an underdeveloped left ventricle… or an overriding aorta… but because you are the strongest group of people I have ever met. The strength that allows you to face every situation with courage and an amazing attitude. The strength that allows you to be hospitalized one week and then back to the school the next laughing with your friends as if nothing happened. The strength you have to get out of the hospital… push yourself to get better.. even though it is so much easier to crawl into bed. You are a strong group of young people.
You also have more insight on the true value of life than most adults. You understand how precious life is… you understand the joy of small moments. You just get life. I am always in awe of you.. especially after the past few weeks… you will continue to be my role models.
So I am going to end with a little cheers. So glasses. Life is a gift…Today sure is a gift… let’s spend it laughing, drinking and supporting and amazing group of young people! cheers!