Monday, September 10, 2012

The Power of One

My next posting for the ACHA blog highlights the past year (It was one year ago this week that I received the recommendation for a second open heart surgery.) and discusses the impact that just one person (and one year) can have. It will be published tomorrow.

This week—September 15, to be exact—marks the one year anniversary of receiving a recommendation for my second open heart surgery. One year ago, I was scared, overwhelmed, confused, and completely unsure of what the next 12 months would hold for me. Truth be told, I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead anyway. Rather, I was only focused on those immediate decisions that I had to make in the upcoming weeks.

This last year has been an incredible journey for me and one that I never would have imagined. When I think about The Power of One, I think about a few things: 1) the impact of one ACHA staff member (Thank you, Paula!); 2 the effect of one ACHA Ambassador (Thank you, Russell!); and 3) the things that I have been able to accomplish as just one individual over the past year.

When faced with a major heart health decision, Paula Miller, ACHA’s member services manager, single-handedly encouraged me to seek additional opinions and directed me to the appropriate resources to find additional ACHD care in my area. Russell, my ACHA Ambassador, shared his own experiences with me, calmed many of my fears, and answered my questions as a vulnerable “new” adult congenital heart patient. Russell also guided me to the Ironheart Racing Team, which I joined in December 2011 and that has helped motivate me to continue pursuing my love of endurance sports.

As an individual, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot over this past year, both for myself personally and for the greater CHD community. I’ve gotten a much better grasp on my own heart health and have found a great ACHD cardiologist who wants to work with me for my continued care. After attending Lobby Day in Washington, DC, in March and then meeting my Representative personally in my home district the following month, I was successful in getting him to join the Congressional Congenital Heart Caucus. Last month, I passed a VO2 max test with a strong 36.5 result. This past weekend, I ran the Chicago Half Marathon with a time of 2:35:05 (just five minutes over my personal goal), and I raised over $1,700 for ACHA in the process. And later this month, I will be taking part in training for ACHA’s Ambassador program.

I have often been inspired by this popular quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

However, I don’t think it was until this past year that I’ve really experienced this truth for myself, whether it was the impact of one person (or a very small group) on my own world or the impact that I have been able to have on the CHD community: by getting a Congressman to join the caucus and raising money for ACHA. It has been a yearlong journey for which I am very grateful.

With that said, I encourage you to decide how YOU want to make a difference, whether that be within the CHD community or elsewhere in your life. With a little bit of dedication and determination, you, too, can discover The Power of One. I admit that it can sound a bit clichéd at first. But it is truly an awesome and rewarding feeling; and once experienced, it will likely motivate you to continue doing even more. Do not underestimate the profound impact that you can have as one person, whether that be on just one other individual or on a whole community.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It's About Time

At 7:00am tomorrow, I will join thousands of other runners for the 16th annual Chicago Half Marathon. As we cross the starting line, many of us (including myself) will set our watches, smartphone running apps, or other GPS tracking devices to monitor our running time, pace, and whatever else the more advanced models do. While my goal is to complete the half marathon with a time of 2:30 or less (which is consistent with the pace I've kept during my training runs), the numbers on the race clock are certainly not the most important element of time for me in tomorrow's race.

For me, tomorrow marks the culmination of a journey that started one year ago (almost to the day). On September 15, 2011, I walked into the cardiologist's office at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and received a recommendation for a second open heart surgery. (As many of you know, my first surgery took place when I was only eight months old.) A recent cardiac MRI had found an aneurysm in my main pulmonary artery. The next few weeks and months were filled with follow up visits to the hospital for additional tests, making the initial plans for surgery, seeking out second and third opinions from other cardiologists, and ultimately deciding on a far less invasive approach.

Tomorrow's race—my very first running endurance event and the farthest distance I've ever run in a single stretch—will be a time for me to reflect on this year-long journey. It will be a time to celebrate my health, while taking pride in the fact that I personally raised over $1,700 for the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA). The time that I spend running through Jackson Park and on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive (with the expected perfect weather) will be a reminder of how fortunate I am to be able to complete this race at all, regardless of my pace.

I am somewhat competitive by nature, and I will admit that I found myself getting a bit frustrated during these last 14 weeks of training because I didn't feel like my pace or endurance level were improving all that much. But as my cardiologist even reminded me during my last visit, "Mr. Woodhouse, you're not 20 anymore." (That said, however, I wasn't much of a runner when I was 20 either, but I digress.) The results of my recent VO2 max text were fantastic, and my cardiologist told me there was no reason to not continue with my training and my plans to run the half marathon. He said that he looks forward to hearing how the race went, and he even made a generous donation to ACHA on my behalf. (I guess there was no way I was able to back out of the race anymore!)

I am running tomorrow in support of an organization that means so much to me personally. I am running tomorrow in honor of those adults and children with congenital heart defects who cannot do so and in memory of those who have lost their battle with CHD. But, most importantly, I am running tomorrow for myself. I am completing the half marathon to prove to myself that I can overcome new challenges and that I am just as strong as ever. Oh yeah, and I'm doing it to have fun, too!