Growing up I was a healthy child and didn't have any medical conditions. However, that all changed one evening in 1986. I remember the panic in my mother’s voice and then my father racing in the car to get to the emergency room. I had a very bad cough due to the change in Wisconsin weather. My cough triggered a reaction causing my heart to begin racing at an irregular rate causing me to faint before reaching the hospital. My parents had no clue what was happening to me other than my pulse was irregular and I felt and looked horrible.
That was when we learned I had a ventricular septal defect which can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), infection of the heart (endocarditis), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and delayed growth. Although, my doctor treated the heart condition over several years, it impacted the way I lived and viewed heart health.
I remember my heart condition, although not as serious as a heart attack or other conditions. It impacted my life from sports I could play in school to the kinds of food I was allowed to eat. In short, I had small holes in my heart that could have healed on their own or cause no symptoms as I grew up. We hoped that would be the case but I had several larger holes that required surgery to stitch the hole closed and cover the hole with a patch. I lived with the condition for 12 years and at the age of 18, we decided to have surgery before going off to college in another state.
Looking back, my grandmother died of a stroke and my grandpa died of a heart attack. It also turned out that my brother who is four years older than me had the same condition as I did. His condition wasn’t detected until much later on when he was in college.
I feel lucky that I didn’t have additional complications and vowed to be an advocate for the American Heart Association. I’ve been volunteering for over 10 years and will continue to for as long as they allow me.
- Written by Eric Bero