Heart of a Spartan

Feb. 1, 2013 (Go Red for Women Day)

Lusaka, Zambia

So here’s the thing. I have an ICD – internal cardioversion defibrillator.  It also acts as a pacemaker for my heart 99 percent of the time. The defibrillator part is what would deliver a large shock to my heart should my rhythm go into a dangerous pattern. Although it’s for a condition I was born with, I’ve only had an ICD for six years – just having my second put in four months before this trip began. (Side note – I have an amazing doctor at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, Eric Good, who happens to be an MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine grad).

While I can’t ever really forget that I have it, I try to go about my life in as normal a way possible. It was an adjustment getting used to it, but I don’t let it slow me down and I never want to be treated any differently because of it.

A few people questioned if I should embark on this crazy world trip because of it. They wondered if it was safe for me. They wondered what would happen if I got a shock in some foreign land. They wondered if I could handle it. With absolute clearance from my doc, there was no way I was missing out.

photo-1Like I said, I really try not to think about it. But there’s one place I’m reminded every time – airport security. Because of the high-powered magnets used in scanners I can’t go through them. So each time I have to alert security and they walk me around the scanners and I get patted down. Most people are very nice about it. It hasn’t been an issue on this trip, just a minor annoyance.

Except once. Looking back on it now, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Whether it was lack of sleep, the fact that no one was speaking English, that I was separated from my colleagues, that they wouldn’t let me have my documents, that the whole procedure was different from any other place I’d been, or just that it was a blatant reminder that I’m not the same as everyone and have a heart condition – it affected me.

IMG_0567 copyIt all turned out fine and luckily with Jim and Kurt I have two of the most wonderful colleagues and friends anyone could have on a trip like this. They were there to support me completely and prop me up when I needed it most.

I soldiered on and hit the ground running at the next location. We really don’t have time to stop and think most of the time. There’s no time to dwell on a bad experience and absolutely no time to feel sorry for ones self. And, after witnessing the challenges people face every day in the locations we’ve been, I don’t think I ever will again. I have a heart condition…so what? I should be thankful every night for the access to care and technology that I have when some people wonder if they or their children will make it through the next day.

If I’m being completely honest, there was a short second when I too wondered if I could do this trip. I had a moment of worry. I thought about being different. But I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from experiencing all the world has to offer. That I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from living. My doctor once said, “I put the ICD in you so you could live – so go live.” (Like I said, he’s a Spartan through and through).

Senior University PhotographerIn the past few years I’ve met some other people who have ICDs. Most adapt well. Some still let fear stop them. Who knows, maybe I can inspire someone else to go live while they have the chance.

Spartans Will.