Dealing with the Memories

Selfie of Kevin Levineo

“I have had three open-heart surgeries, the first one at age 11 in 1968. I am 61 years old now.

That first one was for aortic stenosis. Back then, EKG machines were the size of refrigerators and straps were made from leather!

I had my second surgery — for a faulty valve — when I was 16. Then four years later, I was recalled like a Ford Pinto and given a Bjork-Shiley prosthetic heart valve. It has been ticking for me ever since — 41 years.

What I want to point out in recalling those events is what didn’t happen. No one ever explained anything about the procedures and I had no therapy to help me afterward.

Despite panic attacks, depression, anxiety, trauma and the usual nightmares that adults who had heart surgery as children often go through, I lived a somewhat normal life. Then, a few weeks ago, all the years of suppressed memories finally — and suddenly — came smack dab to the surface, like a breaching whale. Suddenly I felt very afraid of my body, particularly the clicking of the heart valve. And like a lot of survivors, I was not sure what to do with my memories and flashbacks.

Don’t worry, my story has a happy ending because I learned that I am not alone! I know this because I have read their stories here in Heart Insight and at the American Heart Association website.

I am slowly, slowly coming around to completely accepting my situation. I think of it as radical acceptance. That means that I do not have to avoid the pain, the trauma or the isolation. I am learning to trust that my body is doing its job. I am learning the reality of who I am.

Reaching out to others who have had similar events and feelings, listening to them and sharing with them, is a big part of my therapy. One day at a time, one moment at a time.

I am so grateful for you all.

Heart disease can feel isolating, but you’re not alone. To hear from and share with others living with heart conditions, visit the American Heart Association Support Network.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Heart Association.

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