A debut memoir by a woman born with a congenital heart defect.
Just after Flaherty-Kizer was born in 1957, a nurse told her mother, “She’ll never live.” They said that she had a heart problem, but nobody knew exactly what it was. Not until she applied for and received acceptance to the U.S. Naval Academy, contingent upon her passing the medical exam, did she learn that she had something far more serious than the mere heart “murmur” her pediatrician surmised. A heart specialist explained that she had Ebstein’s Anomaly, in which “the tricuspid valve—the valve between the chambers on the right side of the heart—does not form correctly and thus doesn’t work properly.” She would need annual checkups but wouldn’t need surgery in the immediate future—unless she wanted to have children, because her heart wouldn’t be able to bear the strain of childbirth. She decided at that point that she would choose to adopt when the time came. Although she and her husband, Keith, were committed to a healthy lifestyle to set an example for their two adopted children, the busy schedule of everyday life caused her to stop going for annual heart monitoring. By 2012, her heart had begun to deteriorate, and two years after that, she was told that she needed surgery, which she had in May 2015; a difficult recuperation followed. In lucid, conversational prose, Flaherty-Kizer shares details of the lead-up to the operation and her recovery—including some unexpectedly funny moments, as when her hospital roommate, hindered by clutter, didn’t make it in time to the bathroom: “I rang for the nurse,” she writes, “and merely said, ‘Cleanup in aisle 8,’ ” and the two women convulsed with laughter. In this way, the author shows how an upbeat attitude helped her make her way through a very hard time in her life. The most valuable element of this slim volume, however, is its abundance of advice, such as how to select a doctor and deal with insurance companies. The author also offers additional resources and full-throated encouragement for those facing similar ordeals.
A positive remembrance and a highly useful guide.