My heart defect (a Ventricular Septal Defect or VSD for short) was detected very soon after I was born, just before Christmas 1975.
My first memory of my heart condition is actually of the operation itself, which happened in the summer of 1977 – I have two clear memories: the first is being woken by a nurse during the night to take some medicine, the other is of being taken outside by the same nurse to listen to a brass band playing. I seem to recall a lot of men in suits smiling at me, as well as the nurse in white. I also clearly remember bawling my little (and presumably just-fixed) heart out!
As I grew up, I attended Southampton General Hospital (SGH) once a year for check-ups. I was told each time to take care not to over-exert myself. I have to admit that I used that as an excuse at to get out of playing football in the rain and mud. In fact, throughout school, don’t recall being on the sports-field very much. This made me a fairly quiet, reserved, pensive kid. Sure I had lots of friends, but I do feel I missed out on a lot of fun. To make up for this, my Mum made me go swimming once a week with my brother and our next-door neighbour’s son. I hated it at first, not being keen on any sort of strenuous activity, but over time I grew to love swimming and was pleased as punch to get my Bronze, Silver and Gold medals.
The regular visits to SHG stopped when I reached 15, and it was only really after that that I became more adventurous (especially after being told by the doctors that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me). I became a rather keen cyclist and went everywhere I could on my push-bike and as fast as I could! It was a wonderful feeling to go as fast as I wanted without having to worry about my heart. I daresay the exercise did my heart good anyway: it certainly kept me fit! I loved getting up on frosty mornings to help my Dad with the paper rounds from his newsagents and I also cycled to the train station in the next village to go to college.
After University I took a year out to back-pack around Australia. I enjoyed many healthy activities and certainly walked a lot! I didn’t really enjoy melon-picking in the broiling Oz heat but I guess I did prove to myself that I had endurance by the bucket-load. More enjoyable was the snorkelling and scuba-diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
If there’s one really important thing I’ve learnt from my experiences growing up with a heart condition, it’s that my parents must have gone through a huge emotional trauma. To this day my Mum still worries about me (as all mothers do), although it’s only in recent years that I’ve come to realise just how difficult it must have been for my parents to resist completely wrapping me up in cotton wool. For not doing just that, I’m eternally grateful to my folks.