Me With CHD: Perseverance, Grit, and Unfailing Determination to Succeed

I had a great conversation this week regarding grit and perseverance, and how it was seen as a quality in me via my employer. When asked if I agree, I smiled, because I knew the answer and was blown away that a huge part of who I am personally was shining through my work professionally. Although I did not go into detail, I stated that I agreed, and see myself as a voice for the voiceless, and someone who will always push through failure to succeed.

Nelson Mandela said it best, “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

If I had more time to discuss my grit, it would go something like this….

11 years ago, at the age of 25, my heart failed me, and I almost lost my life, leaving my son without a Mother. My heart stopped twice, I was cardioverted, and when I opened my eyes, I knew the battle was just beginning.

My Congenital Heart Disease had worsened, and my cardiology team was unsure how to help me. Throughout the next 4 years, I experienced multiple successful and failed surgeries, implanted cardiac devices, and a body that was deteriorating before my eyes.

I had low cardiac strength, couldn’t even walk up the stairs, and was in an abusive, toxic relationship with a narcissist.

I was working full-time, trying to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Micro/Molecular Biology, all while being a Mother.

My PTSD from living in the unknown kept fear alive constantly, unable to sleep, or even venture out alone. I was worried for my life, and for my son; I knew failure was not an option, and that I had to survive.

In the depths of my illness, I found strength and courage through the innocent eyes of my son; the only person in my life who believed I could overcome this. He was only 4 years old at the time, and challenged me to do American Ninja Warrior. Again, during this time, I couldn’t even walk up the stairs without having a dangerous cardiac event, and yet he saw something, and challenged me to meet this lofty, and unobtainable goal.

I slowly began walking up the stairs each day, allowing my heart to go into an arrhythmia, and forcing myself to face it head on.

From there, I started walking outside, which led to running for a few seconds at a time. The evolution of myself happened slowly, and with so many hiccups along the way. It was never easy getting here, and I had to trust that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, even when I couldn’t see it.

I have had more emergency heart related issues than I can count, thousands of tears have poured from my eyes, and I have continued facing my own mortality every step of the way.

Now, here I am today… 11 years later.

I completed college.

I left the abusive relationship, and am now married to an amazing man.

I am excelling at work.

My son is now 13, and still challenges me. The only difference is that now, I’m really strong, and he is forced to try and keep up with me.

I am living the life of my dreams because I had grit, perseverance, and refused to give up when I was told there was no hope for me.

I am a climber, runner, 2x NBC American Ninja Warrior Contestant, advocate, athlete, and Mom.

I eat a mostly plant-based diet, workout everyday, and most of the time, multiple times per day. I live a life of adventure, push the limits of what I can do, and refuse to stop.

I may still have heart-related incidents, but I have a toolbox of coping skills that allows me to put one foot in front of the other every day.

I am thankful for my journey, because it allowed me to be who I am today. I am the woman who will never give up, even through failure. I will keep pushing, trying, and succeeding. I get to live the life I always wanted, filled with adventure and battle scars.

My grit comes from falling, failing, being worn down and beaten by life, and still getting up every damn time!

I will still break down, and probably find myself in the hospital again at some point in my life, but it will only make me stronger. I will never roll over and die. I will fight, win, and do it all over again.

“On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.”

– Molly Burdick

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