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Stories of everyday strength from resilient hearts

Join us in celebrating our patients’ strength and resilience after complex heart surgery.

Heart Month Stories | Caroline Wigglesworth

Caroline was born in 1994 with complex heart disease: single ventricle, mitral atresia, dextrocardia, left juxtaposition of the atrial appendages and bilateral superior vena cava. As a young child, she had four heart surgeries from right after her birth to age 3. Now 24, Caroline lives and works in New York City, but still travels to Boston for her heart care, including routine check-ups with her cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Blume.

Did you ever feel like your heart condition held you back?

There are definitely times where I really have to work hard to keep up with my twin sister Haley and my friends, but I wouldn’t say I have ever felt that I was at a direct disadvantage. My sister’s heart is completely fine, and I had no idea until I was in elementary school and starting to play sports, that I was any different. It’s a real testament to the way my sister and my parents supported me growing up. I was never very athletic, but I played a bunch of different sports in school, including softball, soccer, and both ice and field hockey. The only one I stuck with was in high school; I played ice hockey, even though my parents and Dr. Blume weren’t so happy with my choice.

caroline as a baby smiling on her mother's lap

How’s your health now?

It’s great! I had a catheter procedure a couple of years ago. It was the first time I had any procedure since my last heart operation, about 12 years ago. I go to the gym, travel and hang out with friends. And if I ever have a question or problem, I know I can just ask Dr. Blume and she gets right back to me.

What’s something people might not know about you?

I love to travel. Growing up my mom traveled a lot for her job, so she would take my sister and me with her. My sister went to St. Andrews in Scotland for her freshmen year of college, so I visited her there a few times, and I spent one summer during college in London. After college graduation, my friends and I took a trip to Greece and I returned there last fall. So far, my favorite destination has been Prague.

How has your heart condition made you stronger?

I feel like I have gotten to know myself more. Growing up, I had to be aware of how I was feeling and how to express that. This prompted me to trust myself and my instincts more. Now that I’m starting my career in marketing, I’m more confident in myself and know what I can and can’t do. I feel like having a heath issue has also taught me to be more compassionate toward other people and gives me an inside understanding of the importance of health care issues in this country.

Do you have any advice for kids growing up with a heart condition?

I am not sure if I have one piece of advice but I have a couple tips.

  • As I was growing up, I never really understood what my condition really meant or looked like. So when I was starting high school, I sat down with my cardiologist and she drew out what my heart looked like and explained how everything worked. It was a huge help! It was great to visualize everything.
  • Don’t be an afraid to say “Hey, I don’t think I can do this.” It is always a worry of mine that I won’t be able to do something or keep up. And it wasn’t until college that I really felt like I could admit this to others. There are so many times I wish I had spoken up before college and saved myself from pushing myself too hard.

 

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