Heart Defects and Employment

There is a recent study appearing in the medical journal Congenital Heart Disease that tries something new: Accepting the statistic that 90% of  children undergoing heart surgery today will survive to adulthood, this study looks at the employment records of Congenital Heart Defect Survivors. So what did the study learn?

The findings show that male patients were less likely to be employed full-time than part-time. This was largely dependent on disease severity.

I can vouch for this statement: While I did work for 10 years at a small museum, I never held a full time job. I normally worked two days a week, plus any day when we had a large public event and needed extra help. While the time off was plentiful, there were few benefits and no health coverage. We were a small, non-profit, private operation – not very conductive to retirement funds and dental plans. But that didn’t just affect me, everyone who worked there knew that.

Men were also found to suffer much more from the psychological consequences of their disease than women. The researchers found evidence that males rated considerably higher than female patients on a series of psychological measures; in particular anxiety, depression and hostility.

I never felt anxious about my job and rarely felt depressed. And I certainly hope no interpreted my attitude as hostile! While I was personally glad to be getting out of the house and doing something constructive, there’s a legitimate reason for those feelings:

The researchers believe the occupational differences apply to differing workforce expectations. “Men are expected to be employed, and particularly in full-time engagements, but for women this does not hold to the same extent,” says Dr. Siegfried Geyer of Hannover Medical School, co-author of the study. “Their decision to take a part-time job or not to be employed at all is more in accordance with conventional norms.”

So while it may be perfectly acceptable for a woman to work part time, guys are held to a different standard. We’re expected to be the breadwinners; and with our paycheck we are to take care of our lady, rent or purchase a place to live, and maintain a home. When you have a chronic illness – such as a heart defect – that’s a difficult objective. No wonder we can get all bent out of shape.

The researchers believe that, in giving advice, physicians should convey appropriate optimism about patients’ abilities to fulfill occupational demands. This may also include a shift in occupational goals.

For so many years, Cardiac Kids hear the words “you can’t” and “you shouldn’t”. It’s for our protection, obviously, but we chafe under the restrictions. Instead of limiting us, why not channel us into other activities? And good doctors do just that: They realize that we want to live our lives. So instead of “NO!”, they are more apt to tell us “try this instead.”

Encouragingly, it was shown that patients had prospects of making good careers and had the same opportunities to attain occupational positions as their counterparts from the general population.

I found this point to be quite encouraging. When searching for a job, the average healthy person usually considers pay and benefits as the most important factors. A CHDer has to consider more – what kind of job is it? We have to think about the amount of labor involved, health coverage, sick leave, and other issues. While most of the things I did at the museum involved communications skills (I was a tour guide) there was some physical labor involved. Setting up the tables in our meeting room was easy – we used round tables. Rather than lift and carry them, I got them up on their edge and rolled them to where they were needed! But occasionally we had to move things, and that was difficult for me. If the object was of any size, I got out the pushcart and usually asked for help.

My advice to young people with a CHD is to stay in school and learn as much as you can – you’ll need to find a job using your brain rather than your brawn. You may have to take a job as a “paper-pusher”, but there are worse things. Find a good company with a good health plan (that accepts your pre-existing condition) and good benefits, just in case your health declines and you are forced to quit work early. But if modern medicine allows you to be a productive member of society, don’t be afraid to try!

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3 Responses to “Heart Defects and Employment”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Great perspective on it Steve. I read this study and it made me sad for those who feel “less-than” because of heart disease. So glad you shed some light on the topic. OH how we Momma’s need the advice of you grown heart heroes!!!! You might just keep me from wreckin’ this boy!!

  2. carolyn compton Says:

    You do an awesome job on this…so much research…couldn’t you publish or something…turn it into cash?? you have such a unique perspective and i always check only three things for personal use: hotmail, facebook and adventures of a funky heart!

    Clarry’s cardiologist keeps saying he isn’t limited at this stage and he will learn his own limitations just as anybody does. (of course the usual restriction of no contact sports etc)…but he will be limited by his own physical feeling and that he will “self limit”. i teach teenagers and wonder how much that will change. i feel he will have to have a strong sense of himself when he reaches the stage of peer pressure and wanting to test limits, just like all teenagers.

    He is so into trucks and engines (just turned 2) that he will be into the science of moveming parts at the evry least…the theory of physics…not a mechanic you think?

  3. ian Says:

    I have to say that my experience of working full time with chd is different to what the study shows. I was born with Tetralogy Of Fallot and for the last 14 years i have worked for a major supermarket chain here in the Uk where there is a lot of physical labour and i have managed to cope with it pretty well and i’ve never felt that my condition has restricted me in any way and i’ve refused to let it It’s just a case of knowing that you have certain restrictions and living and working within them.

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