It was 2004 and the end of summer when everyone at Thome gymnastics began our nonstop run to the park. I was 14-years old. As we reached the top of a hill, I began to feel unusually exhausted. I didn't think much of it at first and decided to push myself further with words of encouragement from Coach Brian.
I thought that I was simply a little out of shape from not being as active as I had been. My broken wrist and fear of balance beam was to blame for that in my mind. I felt guilty. When we reached the park, I didn't want to leave. It was quiet and I was cooling down in a fountain. I had fun kicking and splashing while sitting barefoot.
It wasn't until we ran back to the gym that I realized that something must be wrong and that I might be sick with something. I was out of breath. My dad noticed when it was time to go home Later that day, I walked up the stairs at home and felt extremely out of breath that I thought I was going to faint. I collapsed on the floor. Everything around me was spinning and I felt far too weak to get up. Looking up caused a wash of sickness. I thought I was going to die. This lasted for about ten seconds. It was terrifying and made me realize that a doctor's visit was absolutely mandatory. To me, it was nothing that a trip to the doctor's couldn't fix.
Doctor sent home with a heart recording monitor that I had to wear all day and was pleased to not have to wear the recording wires at night. It was annoying and uncomfortable to wear even just with the stickers. They wanted me to keep a journal to mark whenever I felt exhausted and what activity I was doing. I remember getting questions from my fellow classmates in grade school. They seemed concerned. I liked and appreciated their curiosity and concern, and was looking forward to getting it off and be over with.
After my heart recordings were reviewed, the cardiologists decided to do an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound plus recording of the heart. My mom, dad, and I were all waiting in a room together for the results. At first, I was having a hard time paying attention and listening to what the doctor was saying because I still didn't feel it was that a serious matter. My parents were mostly listening without speaking anything. Then I remember the feeling of dread in the room as Doctor Boyle looked at and talked to me more. There's no easy way to break this kind of news: I had cardiomyopathy. My heart was enlarged and my heartbeat was irregular and slow. I would eventually need a heart transplant. How does anyone begin to process this all? I wasn't scared or shocked. I felt numb compared to everyone in the room. No one in my family had heart disease. It felt like we were in that room forever and I just wanted to leave.
If I didn't had not already considered quitting gymnastics before this, the news would have been absolutely devastating. I had already shed my tears for giving up something that was a huge part of my life. The guilt I had felt turned into the inevitable reality. In an attempt to fill the void, I took jazz and ballet classes for a while. It was fun, but I eventually decided that my health couldn't take it anymore.
I remember begging my dad to let me go with him on his bike ride to the lake so we could watch the sunset. I told him that I wouldn't hold him up. After I convinced him, unfortunately, I had to stop half way through. He was upset, understandably so. When we arrived home, we talked about my condition and how my dad thought it would eventually go away on its own. As much as I wanted that to be true, I knew it wasn't.
My heart rate was 40 beats per minute. I couldn't walk without feeling out of breath. I had to avoid drinking plain water because my body would retain it. Walking up stairs was a grueling task. I was huffing, puffing, and heaving with multiple heavy text books. The locations of my classes were nowhere near my locker so I had to carry them all.
Everything was overwhelming. I experienced my first heartbreak, attempted suicide, lost support of friends, and ultimately became depressed. Life changed completely for me. Eventually, my right heart valve stopped opening and closing. I felt as if no one understood or cared about me, period, though it was not so. My family was extremely caring and supportive, yet those who go through the pain can only understand it. No one seemed to truly understand how difficult my heart condition made things. "Imagine having a constant asthma attack" I would say. I gained a lot of water weight and developed sores on my wrists and ankles. My self-esteem suffered greatly.
Walking home from high school during summer was the worst. I always dragged behind and others were always impatient. I tried getting bus passes, but didn't qualify because I wasn't far enough to get them for free. It was still a far walk for me. A kind friend, Isaah would offer me his bus passes sometimes. That air conditioning felt like a huge breath of relief. God bless Isaah.
Late August of in 2007, had one of the hottest days I can remember. We had these strange pizza quesadillas that were my favorite, for lunch. Afterwards, I started feeling feverish and nauseous and eventually threw up in the nurse bathroom. Needless to say, I wasn't fond of those pizza quesadillas anymore. I forgot to mention to the nurse that I had a heart condition so when he listened to my heart, he freaked out and started calling people. My heart rate was 40 beats per minute. I had told him that my heart felt like it was racing. It really did feel racing compared to my normal at the time.
I was admitted to The Cleveland Clinic that same day and was told that I was staying until I had the heart transplant. Part of me felt relaxed because I would be closely watched and cared for by professional people. It was happening then. Conflicting thought and emotions were troubling me. At the same time, I was saddened by the realization that someone would have to die so that I could live. It felt selfish.I was put on an experimental infusion drug to change my heart rate so I could get further up on the waiting list.
Within six days, they found a heart. When Doctor Boyle came into the room to inform me, I was so busy playing Pikmin on the GameCube that I didn't hear what he was saying. Then Nurse Colleen came in to ask me if I was excited. "Excited for what?" When she told me about availability of heart I found out, I was thrilled. I did feel a little bad for alienating Doctor Boyle.
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