I’m Stephanie Bochenek, a 22 year old Kentucky resident, originally from Hamilton, ON. I recently graduated from Michigan State University, where I was a five year student-athlete. All my life I have had a passion for sports, usually playing multiple sports at once, including soccer, basketball, track, badminton, and volleyball. In my first four years at Michigan State, I rowed on the varsity rowing team and my fifth year I threw javelin. I have always thought that I was living a “healthy” lifestyle, but last summer I was diagnosed with a heart defect and I realized that some things you just can’t control. I have a bicuspid aortic valve, which is a heart defect I was born with. This is when the aortic valve only has two leaflets that open and close each beat instead of the normal three leaflets. The doctors also found that my aortic root was big enough to be considered an aneurysm, so I was scheduled for a CT scan and told to stop doing anything strenuous. Everything I do revolves around strenuous activities and training, but for those three weeks I thought that I would never be able to do the things that I love to do again. You can imagine how hard it would be to have everything you’ve worked so hard for and all the dreams you have for the future taken away from you in an instant. I started thinking about ways I could stay involved in sports, especially in rowing as a coach. When I left the clinic after my test and diagnosis, I immediately decided to leave everything up to God. Doing that helped me find peace and strength in my reality.
This past year, since my diagnosis, my life has been amazing in many ways. The CT results showed that the current stage of my condition wasn’t as bad as originally thought, so I was cleared to continue what I was doing before. I feel so blessed to be able to keep doing what I love despite my condition. After I was cleared, I was able to work everything out to join the track team at Michigan State and throw javelin. This experience has helped me become more aware that so many people are born every day with heart defects. Some may never know it, but a lot of them will have to fight every day to live because their defects are so severe that they require surgery and other treatments, even at a very young age.
What am I doing in Kentucky, you ask? Well, long story short, I moved down here in August to hopefully find a job in Richmond because, for some reason I don’t know, I felt like this was where my next step was. I decided that I wouldn’t know if it was true unless I came here and gave it a shot.