Written By: Sara Hewston, CCLS, Starlight Children’s Foundation
My name is Sara Hewston and I am a Certified Child Life Specialist here at Starlight. I am also a proud Heart Warrior.
As we continue to honor and celebrate the 40,000 children who are born with congenital heart defects (CHD) each year, I wanted to take a moment to share my own heart journey with you.
Like many of our Starlight Kids, I was born with a pretty scary heart defect. In simple terms, the two main arteries that carry blood away from my heart are switched, and I have a hole in the wall (septum) that separates the two upper chambers of my heart. These two conditions combined make it hard for my heart to pump blood effectively and deliver enough oxygen to my body.
At the age of two, I received my first pacemaker and have had seven major surgeries since. Growing up, I couldn't participate in the same activities as other kids like sports, cheerleading or gymnastics. Instead, while my friends were scoring goals and perfecting their cartwheels, I was busy getting my blood drawn twice a day and mastering the art of swallowing pills. Even as an adult my journey is far from over as I'll need regular pacemaker changes every 8-10 years to keep my ticker in check.
But, despite these challenges, my heart journey has taught me some valuable lessons that I carry with me every day. I've learned the importance of advocating for myself, managing my limits, and prioritizing my rest and mental health. It has also given me a unique perspective on life and has taught me the importance of compassion and empathy for others.
With or without CHD, it’s important to take care of ourselves by making heart-healthy choices. Here are three simple things we can do to maintain heart health while setting a positive example for the kids in our lives.
Exercise regularly. Incorporate at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine. Physical activity can improve heart health and overall well-being for both kids and adults.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. Focus on consuming foods that are rich in nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Encourage your little ones to do the same!
Take care of your mental health. Stress can be detrimental to heart health. Prioritize stress-reducing activities such as meditation, your favorite hobbies like yoga or spending time in nature. Even better, share these activities with your kids!