With the Olympics drawing to a close, the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) community has been abuzz about the exploits of a talented young man you might have heard of. Unless you have been completely out of touch for the past two weeks, you’ve probably heard about Shaun White.
We love the guy; after all, he’s one of us. Shaun was born with a heart defect known as Tetraology of Fallot (ToF) and he’s out there living his life and not letting anything slow him down. A lot of CHDers have (almost) normal lives, too, but we aren’t Double Gold Medal winning Olympic Champions. And if he has any say in the matter, he’s aiming for the next Winter Olympics, too.
Homeboy is living LARGE. (Yeah, I’m a little jealous! Who wouldn’t be?)
There is a small problem here, though: Right now, Shaun is in the perfect position to be a great spokesman for those of us living with a Heart Defect. The public loves him. Heart parents, Cardiac Kids, and even tired ol’ Funky Hearts look up to him. But he just doesn’t seem to be interested!
“I had heart problems,” he said on The Oprah Winfrey Show – the closest she has come to discussing CHDs in 25 years. HAD? I thought. What happened? Where did those “heart problems” go?
But when you think about it, his comment starts to make sense. Every heart defect is a little bit different, and affects each one of us a little bit differently. Shaun is obviously pretty healthy (two Olympics, two Golds, remember?), one of the more fortunate CHDers that I know of. And he’s only 23 years old. He’s young, he’s healthy… and he may not realize that a Heart Defect is a lifetime thing. And that is when it hits you:
Shaun White may be one of the many CHDers who has been lost to good Congenital Heart Defect care.
I am hopeful that as time passes and this young man grows a little older, two things will happen: One, that he realize that he isn’t invincible after all, and will find a good Cardiologist who can help him keep that wonderful level of health that he has. Way too often, CHDers “crash” as they grow older – not just the normal effects of age, but age coupled with an old, tired, damaged heart bring us down more than usual. I certainly hope that he can avoid that.
And second, perhaps Shaun White, with a little age and maturity, will become not only the Hero in the Halfpipe but a true Heart Warrior, fighting for all the CHDers who cheer from the sidelines.