The Gift of Life – Sara Engstrom

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are continuing our series on gratitude. This week we hear from Sara, a CHD warrior who shares how gratitude has played a role in her life. 

At six months old, I was diagnosed with Shone’s complex, a myriad of heart defects that impacts each patient differently. My defects include a bicuspid aortic valve, parachute mitral valve, persistent left superior vena cava, and an aortic coarctation. When I was 8 months old, I had a closed heart surgery to repair the coarctation.  I am grateful for my pediatrician, who could not feel the pulses in my feet and was immediately alarmed. Without her, I do not know how long it would have been until the coarctation was discovered. Each year since my surgery, I have followed with a cardiologist who specializes in CHD in order to keep tabs on my valve function and stability. My first cardiologist made the largest impact on me in my childhood, sparking an interest in medicine at a young age. Being exposed to the hospital environment all my life, I have decided to pursue a career as a pediatric cardiologist, something that I would have never considered if it weren’t for my CHD.

I have struggled with having a heart defect from time to time and it has taken a toll on my mental health. During the dark times, I must rely on my family and friends to pull me through. I am indebted to them for all of the support that they have given me. Some have been standing by my side since my surgery over two decades ago, and others more new to my life who have been the most understanding and patient friends I could ask for. My family members have stood by me, speaking for me when I was an infant, making sure I was getting the best care I could receive. It’s definitely not something I think about every day, but my livelihood and future were in the hands of my parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, and uncles and because of them, I am where I am today, healthy and thriving. I don’t thank them all for the loads of support that I have received over the years. When times get hard and I’m feeling lonely, I know that I can count on the wonderful people in my life to keep me grounded.

Throughout my life, I have not met many others with the same defect as me, making me feel isolated in this battle. Last year, I wrote an article talking about my CHD. A few months later, I received a message from a stranger about her struggle with Shone’s complex! This was the first time I have ever been in contact with someone with Shone’s complex. I befriended her immediately. We got to talking and I realized we have so much in common. We both love to travel, try new things, and are pursuing careers in the medical field. I am beyond thankful that she reached out to me. My relationship with her has helped me realize that it is very important to not only share your story with others but also share similar experiences and stories with people who have been through the same.

Having a congenital heart defect has given me more gifts than I can count. I am grateful for my love of medicine that aroused as a result of CHD. I am thankful for the people who have supported me and held me up through my battle, and I am grateful for the opportunities and friendships that have been given to me throughout this journey.

Sara Engstrom is a senior at Wayne State University studying biomedical physics. She plans on applying to medical school in the future to pursue her dreams of becoming a pediatric cardiologist. She lives with Shone’s Complex and is dedicated to telling her story. She loves advocating for CHD. In her free time, she likes to play the clarinet, catch up on the latest TV shows, play with her German shepherd, and spend time with her family and friends.

 

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