Posted: December 9, 2013 in Creative Nonfiction
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Many thanks to Dr. Anne Murphy and Dr. Jane Crosson, both at the Johns Hopkins Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center, for their stellar medical care and support.

The heart is a crucial part of the human anatomy consisting of four chambers, which allow blood to receive oxygen as it flows through the body’s circulatory system. This definition’s scientific technicality fails to reflect my belief that the heart defines a person. I believe my heart has a distinct way of defining me. I am a patient. I am a patient who has a congenital heart defect. I am a patient with Truncus Arteriosus.


Although these stark details do not offer an accurate portrayal of my condition, my hospital record does. I am a female who is 4 feet, 11 inches in height. I am a patient with a heart murmur caused by a malfunctioning mitral valve. I am a patient whose aorta and pulmonary artery were combined at birth. Consequently, only deoxygenated blood circulated through my body. I am a patient who, before the age of thirteen, had the following procedures: one stent, two balloon angioplasties, and four catheterizations. I am patient who has had two open-heart surgeries: one at four days old and one at the age of twelve.

Dr. Anne Murphy, my pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Anne Murphy, my pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins.

Off the hospital record, the two heart donations that I received during these operations are the only reason a jagged green line marches across the heart monitor. Despite these donations, my heart is still incapable of creating a steady THUD-THUD sound like a bass drum. Rather, my heartbeat is a laboring washing machine that generates a sloshy THUMP-schwoosh sound.

THUMP-schwoosh. My heart lurches, pounds, struggles, and survives under the bumpy, white scar that runs down my chest like the links of a long, slender chain. THUMP-schwoosh. My imperfect heartbeat thuds behind sturdy white rib bones. THUMP-schwoosh. The erratic rhythm is a constant reminder of the debt I can never repay, and the noise creates an excruciating conflict inside me. THUMP. I am alive! I can experience sudden epiphanies, unexpected setbacks, askew ideas, and crisscrossing theories that puzzle and perplex but lead to some greater truth. Schwoosh. I ask myself reproachfully, “Am I doing enough? Am I making the most of the life I have been given?” THUMP-schwoosh. My heartbeat is a compass that throbs out the personal conviction “Live! Live boldly; live up to your potential.”

Despite its defects, I believe my heart defines me. I am a patient. I am a patient with Truncus Arteriosus. I am a person who is small yet mighty, determined, and resolute. I am a patient with a pulsing mass of veins and arteries that makes me a bundle of contradictions. I live in constant excitement for today, and conversely, in constant apprehension of tomorrow. The complex organ the size of my fist provides the aspiration to thrive in glorious existence. Under taught skin and sinew, an effervescence surges within the pulsating muscle of my borrowed heart.


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