Heart Defect or Heart Disease?

It really should be a no-brainer. After all, a defect is a design flaw. A disease is an illness. But a lot of people, including me, use the terms interchangeably.

Actually, both words can be used together. My heart defect (Tricuspid Atresia) causes me to have various heart diseases, such as Cyanosis, Congestive Heart Failure, and Atrial Flutter. I occasionally use the phrase “Congenital Heart Disease”; when I do, I use it as a plural of the phrase “Congenital Heart Defect.” (Example: In an earlier post titled The Great Eight, there is a photo of eight people with Congenital Heart Disease.)

Helen Taussig, acknowledged as the Mother of Pediatric Cardiology, preferred the phrase “Congenital Malformations”, (her book is titled Congenital Malformations of the Heart) but even she fell into the Heart Defect/Heart Disease trap occasionally.

Today, the phrase Heart Disease is correctly associated with the various illnesses that can affect a person’s heart as they age. But it is being mutated into a code phrase for unhealthy behavior. After all, you wouldn’t have clogged arteries, high cholesterol, hypertension, or suffered a heart attack if you had taken care of yourself… right? Obviously, so this “logic” goes, you’ve been misbehaving.

I have been sitting in the Cardiologist’s waiting room and been asked “So what are you in for?” (In the same tone of voice used to ask Prisoner #6298965 what he is in for!) When I replied that I had a heart defect, I was told in no uncertain terms that I should have been more careful! Her husband had the exact same problem and she had thrown the salt shaker away, cut out the cholesterol, and didn’t fry any foods at all! I sat there with a bemused smile on my face as I wondered if her husband actually enjoyed eating cardboard boxes at every meal and how often was he able to slip away for a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger.

It seems to be a grim comment on our society that it is assumed if you have an illness, you’re automatically at fault. When I volunteered at the museum, my boss was participating in a county fair parade when he suffered a heart attack and fell off of his horse. During his recovery period we occasionally heard comments about how he was going to have to lose weight, watch what he ate, and other advice. But my boss was as healthy as the horse he fell off of — earlier in life he had had a bout with Bacterial Pneumonia. Recent research has shown that some types of Bacterial Pneumonia can increase the possibility of a heart attack.

This has also led to almost making “obesity” a crime. The problem is, today’s definition of an “obese” person would have been quite acceptable in the past. Look at any of the paintings by the great masters: since most of the subjects were at least partially nude, it is easy to tell that they carry a few extra pounds. But what was recognized as healthy and attractive back then is seen as repulsive today.

And it is not because we have gotten smarter or more health conscious or “nutritionally aware.” Young people today, especially young ladies, are held to an impossibly high standard. Anything less than perfection is unacceptable, and open to ridicule.

CHDer’s have proven to themselves that despite their limitations and the funny lines on their chests, most of us have an inner strength that others can only dream of.  We’ve been through at least one heart operation, usually more. We’ve given gallons of blood, one vial at a time. Countless doctor’s appointments and hospital stays have caused us to come to grips with our mortality. We get knocked down all the time, but rarely are we beaten.


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3 Responses to “Heart Defect or Heart Disease?”

  1. Heart Disease Says:

    Heart Disease…

    To understand the relationship between deep breathing and heart health, it helps to know what happens to the body when it is stressed. When a person experiences stress, the hypothalamus and other parts of the brain’ s limbic system its emotional cent…

  2. girljordyn Says:

    I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to start reading your blog, but I love it! It’s nice to know there are others out there with problems similar to mine. And you’re so informative!

  3. Rick Hosea Says:

    When I had the first heart attack I was healthier than ever. I had been working out and loosing weight. In fact the first heart attack was in the gym.
    But I couldn’t believe the people that told me I needed to loose weight. And change my diet. Change my diet? I had been eating healthier than all those who said to change my eating habits.
    I was like “look at me do I look like I eat at Mc Donalds”.
    I was the one at work trying to educate peple on the ten worst food.
    We have some things in common. 4 Heart attacks this year since Feb.
    The third attack cause CHF with EF between 25 and 30. I will be having a IDC placement next thurs.
    Glad I found your Blog.
    Rick O’ Shea

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