If you’ve ever been on T.V. you would know that it takes a little bit of bravery to get up there and tell a story. What’s even scarier is telling your own personal story about the time you had multiple heart surgeries as a child.
I’m no stranger to the newsroom and its fast-paced ways. I work on the KREM 2 Morning Show as a digital producer. With that being said—I’m not on camera so the experience was a new one for me Friday morning.
The KREM 2 Morning Team has post show meetings where we go over how the show went and plan. At a meeting just a few weeks ago we were planning for a heart health week. I raised my hand and told my coworkers that that week was really important to me because I’d had heart surgeries as a kid.
That news took them by surprise.
“Tasha, did you just say that?” Briana Bermensolo said… Well more like shouted.
“I want that story!” Laura Papetti said.
Later that day Laura found me in the hallway and asked me to tell her a little but about my story.
I had an atrial septal defect, or a hole in my heart.
I told her about how the first surgery did not work. I traveled from my home town of Miles City, Montana to Denver, Colorado to get an umbrella patch procedure at the age of three. It was just a few cardiologist checkups after that my family got the news I’d have to have another surgery.
It was March 2000 when my mom, grandma and grandpa packed up the car and drove the 781 miles to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
I don’t remember much, but I do remember that the night before surgery I was allowed to stay up until midnight for the first time. I was four-years-old, almost five so that was great news! What I didn’t realize was: I was allowed to stay up that late because you can’t eat or drink anything after midnight before surgeries. I also chowed down on some Kentucky Fried Chicken because that was my favorite, and because I had to be heart smart eating, I didn’t get to eat it all the time like four-year-old me would have liked.
It was March 23, 2000 when I went in for open heart surgery. I woke up after about six hours of surgery and the first thing I remember was there was a stuffed zebra on my chest from the surgical team and a bunch of faces looking down at me.
I was recovering for the next few days in the hospital. I listened to my John Denver and Johnny Cash cassette tapes over and over.
Dr. Joseph Dearani told me that if he ever saw Johnny Cash, he would tell him about the little girl he operated on who was his biggest fan.
After recovering I was on my way home. I remember my first day back at preschool and all the kids were hugging me and cheering I was back. It felt good to be back.
Before I had the open-heart surgery, I was not a normal kid. That was for many reasons, but mostly because I was the only person in my classes and at daycare wearing a heart monitor. But I was finally free from that and free to run wild and do kid stuff.
As I got older I saw my cardiologist less and less. First it was every six months, then once a year, then every five years. Just a few summers ago I received the most shocking news I’ve ever heard.
“You’re boring, I’ll see you when you’re 30,” said Dr. James Wiggins, my local cardiologist in Billings, Montana.
That was the first time I have ever heard that word to describe me. I like to think I’m hilarious and a little on the loud side. But boring?! Never.
The good news though was I did not have to see a heart doctor for close to ten years.
When I was a freshman I rushed the Alpha Phi fraternity at the University of Montana. Their philanthropy is all about women’s heart health so I knew I was right at home. What I didn’t know was how that would help me find my cause and use my voice to raise awareness.
I was invited by the sorority’s marketing vice president to be the key note speaker at our event’s Red Dress Gala. The Red Dress Gala raises money for the Alpha Phi Foundation that donates money to women’s heart research. I did so well the first year I was invited to speak again.
Even though I’m cleared by my cardiologist and live a very heart healthy lifestyle, I still have some struggles. I sometimes get light headed or get chest pains. It’s scary.
That would be the message I’d like to send out to the world: It’s scary. I was a little kid and the scariest part was when they went to take the band aids off my chest. It’s scary as an adult to get light headed at work and have to sit down. The good news is that every year we get a little closer to finding cures and technology to help anyone with a heart problem.