At 3-months-old, I received my first open heart surgery. I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot. Tetralogy of Fallot is a combination of four problems: there is a hole between the lower chambers of the heart, an obstruction from the heart to the lungs, the muscle surrounding the lower-right chamber is overly thickened, and the aorta lies over the hole in the lower chambers. When I was a teenager, my heart rate would get so fast that it was a miracle I wasn’t having heart attacks. One afternoon, my cardiologist called my mom and said, “Don’t let her drive or get too stressed out. She might have a heart attack.” I was driving my family home after just passing my license test when she received that call. To slow my heart rate down, I was placed on a medication that would often drop my rate below 60. This would often make me lethargic and unmotivated, which negatively affected me at school.
At age 16, I had my second open heart surgery. This time, they had to exchange my weary mitral valve with a cadaver (human donor) valve. I’ve always been curious as to who gave me the new valve, and a greater life. I remember trying to run the mile in middle school, and getting so winded that I would start stumbling and it would take me 30 minutes to catch my breath. Although my heart is healing, my lungs are still weak. Hiking in Arkansas on a first date with my now-husband was a daunting task without good lungs, but he was patient
I am thrilled to say that my cardiologist has recently released me from my medications and I have not had an alarming rate of abnormal heartbeats in two years. My heart journey was scary, but that wasn’t the end of my struggles.
I will never forget the day I found out about this life altering disease. It was New Year’s, 2011. I had returned home from a New Year’s Eve party around midnight when I became violently ill. I would throw up and then faint, throw up and faint. This continued for almost 7 hours. I did not have the strength to go wake my mother, so I let myself slip away. I thought, “I’m going to die. This is it.”
I don’t remember my mom taking me to the Emergency Room. When the doctor saw me later that day, they told me the worst news I would ever receive…”You have Type 1 Diabetes.” What? How? That was the moment my life crumbled apart. I screamed into my mom’s arms, “Why me? Why me?” I was terrified of needles. I think due to an experience I had during my previous heart surgery. The doctors refused to release me from the hospital until they watched me give myself a shot of insulin. It took me an entire day.
In high school, my blood sugars stayed pretty well in control. It was called a “honeymoon period”. I started gaining weight rapidly. When college came and I moved out, I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I had gained 40 pounds. I slipped into depression and anxiety. I started having anxiety attacks and frequently would sleep for half of the day. I secluded myself. I then thought that, since insulin put the weight on, I could just not take insulin and I would lose the weight. I lost 30 pounds quickly. Although it was so unhealthy, it made me feel normal. I was back to my old self, before I had to deal with the reality of this invisible illness. I never checked my blood sugars. My A1C went from a 7 to a 13, while a normal reading should be 6. I started having vision troubles and would be so tired that I would have to skip classes. That made my GPA in school drop lower and lower. I would stay up until 4 a.m. and then sleep through my 8 a.m. classes.
I started dating my now husband, Zach, during my sophomore year of school and the peak of my unhealthy living. He always encouraged me when I was the lowest. Every day he would tell me how beautiful I am and how smart he knew I was. He wanted me to be healthy. He showed me that he loved me for who I really was and not for what I was on the outside. I realized I didn’t have to fit into society’s beauty standards.
I switched doctors and started using an insulin pump so I would get healthier. It is kept on my body 24/7 and keeps me alive. Every day I check my blood sugars at least 6 times. I have to input them into my pump and always calculate my insulin to carbohydrate ratios. I try to keep my blood sugar in the normal range, but it’s hard to get used to something that you haven’t always had to do. My fingers are scarred from pricking them and my stomach has permanent scars where I’ve had to place my insulin pump or give shots. When my blood sugars fluctuate, I get irritable, tired, and sick. My husband has seen me passing out from lows and puking from highs. It is a never ending cycle of just trying to live.
Diabetes is always an emotional ride. Diabetes makes me angry — I want to scream so loud because my blood sugars have been high for the past 6 hours. Diabetes makes me sad — depressed that I’m never going to shake this disease. Then there is the stage where I get angry and sad at the same time. I want to be free for just one day, to take this machine off of my body and throw it away. But I can’t, because I would die.
Although I’ve gained 40 pounds back, I am getting healthier. I have found inner strength that I never knew I had. I’ve realized that I am beautiful. I am strong. And I won’t let diabetes win. I attend counseling once a week with an amazing woman who has helped me realize that I am bigger and stronger than anything I face. I graduated from Missouri State with my bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a minor in Sign Language. I find my passion in my work, helping kids find homes who are entering foster care. I live so that I can have children and live my life with the most gracious husband. I want others to see the value inside that can be hidden by mental illness and help those who see only dark to finally see that there is so much light in life. I want to become a foster parent so that I can provide a safe and loving environment for the innocent children who so desperately need a loving home. Eventually, I would like to be a social worker so that I can help others who struggle. I want to be all that God intended me to be. I want to live out my purpose.
For those fighting a battle that leaves you tired throughout the day and awake at night, demanding your time and energy, leaving your fingers worn and hearts torn, with no prevention or cure — know that you are not alone. There IS light at the end of the tunnel. Fight for your spouse, your kids, your family. But most importantly, fight for you!