My first open heart surgery was at two weeks old, my second at two months, and my third at seventeen years old. I was born with four congenital heart defects (CHDs) requiring multiple surgeries to repair them. Fortunately, dealing with multiple obstacles throughout my life has allowed me to develop certain characteristics that have led to my success so far. These characteristics are determination, self-confidence, and understanding.
One of the biggest qualities I possess is determination. I have never given up on anything I have faced, although sometimes I have wanted to. Unfortunately, the physical activity restrictions that accompany my medical condition prevented me from competing in most sports. I was allowed to attend dance lessons where I advanced to a member of the competition team and won a National Championship as a high school freshman. I decided to become more involved with my high school friends, I switched to cheerleading where I was a three-year varsity cheerleader, team MVP, and two-time National Cheerleading Association All-American cheerleader. I often had to work harder than my teammates but I wanted to be my best for both my team and myself. I had my last surgery in July 2015, the summer before my senior year and I was determined not to miss my senior year cheering. I worked hard to heal, regained my strength, and was back cheering on our football team two months later. I have achieve all of my high school goals and I am now just as determined to continue my education as I pursue a career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.
I also possess a strong sense of self-confidence. My multiple surgeries left me with visible scars that resulted in many stares and questions as I grew up. Although I was self-conscious and embarrassed, I found confidence in the fact that I was still living today because of those scars. They became a symbol of my strength and bravery every time I looked in the mirror. I was able to use that confidence to deal with typical teenager anxieties, ongoing medical issues, and friends that were not mature enough at that age to know how to help me or be there for me. Confidence also played a huge part in getting through my last surgery. Many of my friends, coaches, and teammates were concerned that I was taking on too much afterwards and that I would not be able to resume cheering while still maintaining my academics. I knew that they were worried about me, but I also believed in myself and with the help of my biggest supporters, my parents, I got strong enough to do the things that I loved to do again while still achieving academic honors.
The third trait that defines me is understanding. I have accepted that my life is not simple and that I might have to fight a little more the things I want. While many people tell me “you were dealt a bad hand in life,” I have come to realize that this false. I was given these hurdles and bumps in the road because they give me opportunities to help in ways others are unable to because they do not have the same life experiences. I have been able to share my story with other children and their parents by volunteering for the American Heart Association, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Mended Little Hearts. I also have been able to make a difference by raising money and awareness for these organizations. I plan to continue to utilize this understanding when I treat my future patients. I understand how scary having medical conditions can be and I have known real pain so I can relate first hand with sicker patients and their families. I think this will be a tremendous asset because I can both empathize with them as well as show them that they are stronger than they may think.
I have faced many more hindrances than the average 17-year-old girl but I refuse to let that limit my goals or define me in a negative way. Instead, I plan to use my traits of determination, self-confidence, and understanding to enhance my success in helping others. My personal experience has shown me that sick kids want to know that they are not alone and there are others just like them that they can lean on in the hard times for support. I want to be that support, both in a medical and holistic capacity.