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MEGAN MATTAI

Coarctation of the Aorta

TELL ME YOUR STORY

"When my mom was pregnant with me the doctors told her that something was wrong with me. They knew something was wrong with my heart. When I was born they found that the aorta, the part where your blood supply goes out, was never gonna grow. So I would be getting the same amount of blood as a newborn baby, which I still do. They told my parents that I was probably going to be low functioning because I wasn’t going to get a lot of blood throughout the body, especially through my legs. They said that I would probably have a hard time walking, that I wasn’t going to eat very well, and that I’d be slow in everything. My mom is a nurse and she was devastated. They gave my parents two options: have surgery and put in a balloon to stretch the aorta valves which would result in several surgeries or wait. My parents chose to wait.

 

Growing up they didn’t treat me as if I was a child with a heart problem. So once I was three I was put in dance and soccer to get my heart strong. I’m super grateful for that. I was a super active kid. I did have to go in every six months for checkups and as I got older I went in once a year. Honestly, growing up I had no idea I had a problem. I was always tired though because my body would try to pump more blood for circulation so I would go to bed super early. 

 

Eventually, I started asking why I was going to the doctor all the time and that’s when my mom kind of told me what was going on. My cardiologist was super impressed because I was really strong for having a heart problem. I think this was because I grew up doing sports and then in high school I played soccer, softball, basketball, and I cheered and danced. I was super active. In my junior year of high school though I didn’t play as many sports because I wanted to focus on certain ones. So I stopped playing soccer and I focused on basketball, softball, cheer, and dance. I gained some weight because of this. I have to be careful gaining weight because the heavier I get the less good blood circulation I get so sometimes my legs would get numb. My junior year was probably the hardest year for me with my condition. One time I was playing in my basketball game and I passed out because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Because of that situation, I actually had to give up basketball my senior year. It was pretty frustrating. So softball was the easiest sport for me to play because I didn’t have to run as much. Since I cut back on being so active, this resulted in me having more problems like aneurysms which meant I started visiting the doctor more frequently. That’s when it finally hit me where I was like this sucks.

 

Anyways so I graduated from high school and I actually played softball at UVU. That was really fun. I became super active again because of practice, games, and I got into weightlifting. Then I decided to go on a mission and my papers got denied because of my heart problems. They reached out to me and said I needed to do a deeper physical with their doctors. So I had to prove that I could ride a bike and I had to go do some stress tests. I was pretty bummed because my parents met on their mission in the Dominican Republic and I wanted to serve foreign but I didn’t think that was gonna happen now. Eventually, I got my mission papers and was assigned to Portugal. I was so surprised but so happy. My mission was perfect for me and I really enjoyed it. I really loved it. I got super nervous to go though because I realized how attached to my mom I was. She was a nurse and always took care of me. I kept thinking what if something happens to me, but I decided to go. My mission was a huge blessing for me. I only had problems one time and it was because I was gaining weight from not exercising as much. It wasn’t too bad though. My mission made me really embrace myself and I gained a ton of confidence in myself.

 

So I finished my mission and came home and I was in a good place. I was like, you know, I don’t have to play sports. I went back to a cardiologist and they ran tests because that was just normal to do. At that point, I was supposed to get surgery, but when he ran the tests he told us that he wouldn’t recommend surgery because I was doing so well. He also told me that I didn’t have to go to him once a year anymore. That was weird hearing that from him. I mean I still have some effects but overall I’m good. Lately, I’ve gotten really into Zumba and I got married. I’m still doing good and my doctors say I’m doing good too."

WHAT WAS THE HARDEST CHALLENGE?

"I am a go-getter person and I don’t like being told that I can’t do something. In high school, I had a problem my junior year and the next day was the Valentine’s dance. I wanted to go, but my parents did want me to because I needed to take medication and be super careful. I did go, but my date had to baby me the whole time. So I feel like once people knew or when I had to struggle, I hated that feeling. I hated that feeling of needing help and not having independence. I didn’t want people to think that because I have this heart problem, I can’t do anything. Also, the pain. I think that’s something people don’t talk about, but the pain hurts really bad. It’s normal for me now, but it still hurts. Lastly, my legs go numb sometimes and it will last for hours."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED?

"To keep going. I had days where I just wanted to be done with it. Like I just wanted to get the surgery, but this experience made me who I am today. You never know what’s gonna happen and God has a plan for you. Just because someone tells you how your life is gonna be doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna end up that way. So just keep going, even when things get tough. You’re stronger than you think you are."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST BLESSING THAT HAS COME FROM THIS?

"My parents. Just the fact that they treated me normal from the very beginning. They could have babied me my whole life, but they didn’t and it made a huge difference. Being active is my passion and I love it. Them pushing me to be active brought me to my husband and teaching Zumba today. It brings me so much joy."

IF YOU COULD SAY ONE THING TO SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH THIS NOW, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

"I would tell them it is rough and life is a climb, but keep enjoying the journey because one day you’re gonna get to a point where you just accept it. Share your journey and enjoy it. Life isn’t super easy and it gets hard, but choose to be happy."

CHARITIES

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