In 1983, when I was just a few hours old, I was rushed to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia because I was blue. I was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries (TGA) and a ventricular septal defect. I was ill most of my first year of life, and I was in and out of the hospital constantly.
When I was 11 months old, I had open heart surgery at CHOP to repair both defects. I then grew up as a healthy, thriving child with the help of my very supportive family.
For most of my childhood and adolescence, I had an appointment once a year with Victoria Vetter, MD, a CHOP cardiologist. I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Vetter for the wonderful care she provided to me over the years, but, like any kid, I really didn’t enjoy going to the doctor.
I felt I wasn’t sick and wondered why I needed to go and get these tests done just to be told I’m fine. I would have to get all the normal cardiology tests: EKG, echo, stress test, and the one I hated the most — a Holter monitor, which warns of an irregular heartbeat.
I would cry and fight my way out of that thing (and I’m embarrassed to say I still do). It was the thing that made me stand out. I would beg to stay home from school so I didn’t have to explain why I had this contraption on.
Growing up, I knew no one who had anything remotely like this. Most of my friends and cousins were healthy children and didn’t have to go through any of this. It would take years for me to figure out exactly how lucky I was that the tests were all that I had to do in regard to my congenital heart defect.
Treatment for atrial flutter
One weekend during my junior year of college, I was home visiting and was out with my friends when I suddenly began to feel ill. I thought maybe it was due to too much typical college fun and went home to sleep it off. But the next morning, I still felt sick. I told my mom and she immediately jumped into action and checked my heart rate. She told me I had to go to CHOP immediately because my resting heart rate was so high.
My first reaction was “ugh.” I thought, I probably just need sleep — they are just going to give me tests and send me home.
But when we got to CHOP they told me they were going to admit me for atrial flutter, a very fast heart rate. It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had. I had never had to be admitted for my heart since I was a baby.
I was in the Hospital for three days. The doctors and nurses at CHOP were so kind to me. They never made me feel silly for being the oldest patient on the ward.
Late one night, after receiving some medication, I started to cry to my mom and said, “I feel it ... I’m going to be okay.”
When we looked at the monitor, we could see that my heart had begun to beat at a normal rate. I was discharged from the Hospital, and a few months later, Maully Shah, MBBS, performed a cardiac ablation to permanently restore my heart to its normal rhythm.
This experience was the first time that I realized I’m not completely “fixed” and I have to watch how I treat my body and be grateful for all that I have. I no longer hated going to the cardiologist and never complained when I was told that “everything is fine.”
Transition to adult care
I am now seen at the Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center by Yuli Kim, MD, who has been an amazing help in this important transition to adult care. I had another scare recently when a stress test showed that my oxygen level was low. CHOP cardiologist Matthew Gillespie, MD, performed a cardiac catheterization and found that my heart is in great shape. My doctors and nurses made this visit so easy, and I can’t thank them enough. Once again, the care I received at CHOP far exceeded my expectations.
My heart condition used to be a burden to me but in recent years I have noticed that it has helped me become who I am. I have an amazing life. I went away to college, I have a great career (I’m assistant director of admissions at Holy Family University), and I am now about to complete my master’s degree.
I also met a wonderful and supportive man to complete my life, and we are to be married on May 19, 2012. My fiancé and I have decided against wedding favors and instead gave a generous donation to the Cardiac Center in honor of our wedding guests. We had little cards with hearts made up to inform the guests of this donation. Most of our guests are aware of my journey and I know they will be happy that we donated to a place that has played a big part in making this special occasion happen.
I am thankful to my great family and friends and to the team at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Cardiac Center for helping me get this amazing life. I know the team at the Cardiac Center will help me continue to grow and provide the best care for me in the years to come!
By Melissa Collett
Originally posted: February 2012