I often told my mother that I love her with all my heart, even if that meant with only half of it. The other half of my heart never developed. I have a congenital defect called Hypoplastic Right Heart, Pulmonary Atresia with an intact ventricular septum. In simple terms, the ventricle that would normally pump blood to my lungs to get oxygenated is missing and the tube that carries the blood to the lungs is occluded.
Even though I struggle with some things that others do with ease, I can still express the same feelings and emotions—even with half a heart.
With my last surgery coming up, we were all hopeful it was going to be successful. I was five at the time. Being rolled into the operating room, I was clueless and scared about what was going on. The surgeon told me to close my eyes as he put a weird clear mask over my mouth that made me fall asleep.
During this surgery, I suffered a stroke because of an air embolism. This caused me to lose the ability to walk, talk, and write. I had to go through months of inpatient physical and occupational therapy. Today, I have almost fully recovered, except for some activities that involve my fine motor skills.
When I started eighth-grade, I decided that I would join a sport in high school. But with my condition, this seemed next to impossible. That all changed when I got an invitation from one of the high school football coaches to come work with the team. This allowed me to be a part of a sport in high school, despite my limitations. Also, football is one of my favorite sports, so I was thrilled to be able to attend all of the games and watch all the action right from the sidelines.
I started my training as a high school football water girl with Grace. She was a senior and needed a year to train her replacement. She taught me all I needed to know about this position. There’s more to this job than you might expect. For the past two years, I have worked with the players, giving them water, taking attendance, helping with basic first aid, memorizing player numbers, handing out their jerseys, keeping track of the time during practice, so I can let the coach know when to move to the next drill.
As my senior year approached, I needed to find someone to take my place. My prayers were answered when Valerie showed interest. Over the summer, I mentored her by using the skills that Grace taught me. I also shared my own unique perspective and advice.
I make sure that Valerie feels confident in her new skills. I work with her regularly to assess where she may still need some help. We are together every day during the week for practices and games. I have helped her understand when we can and cannot be on the field and how to handle a bunch of loud, smelly boys when they are upset by a loss or excited about a win. Once I graduate, she will succeed in the position, using the skills I taught her and developing her own special approach to the work.
It’s been fun to come full circle on something I love doing and pass the torch to someone I trust and have fun training. This fills my half heart with joy.