On December 16, 2017, Sarah departed on an expedition to Antarctica as a 2017 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. While an Antarctic adventure is exciting for anyone, it was an especially poignant journey for Sarah, marking the third anniversary of the open-heart surgery she underwent at age 24.
"Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), I recognize how improbable it is for me to be climbing mountains or kayaking around icebergs," she says. Shortly after her birth in 1990, the doctors at Sarah's local hospital told her parents to take her home and provide "compassionate care" for her remaining weeks.
Fortunately, her parents decided to seek out other options. They found Dr. Michael Freed at Boston Children's Hospital, who suggested 4-week-old Sarah have a balloon dilation of her aortic valve by cardiac catheterization. This treatment helped her left ventricle begin to grow. She had several more catheterization procedures in the years before her first, and only, open-heart surgery, an aortic valve replacement in 2014.
Although Sarah was diagnosed with "failure to thrive" and needed feeding tubes until she was almost 6, she was an active child, tap dancing and performing in school plays and musicals. Her parents remember these feeding issues posed more of a daily challenge than her heart issues.
Sarah also had an instinctive desire to teach.
"I announced to my parents that I would be a teacher when I was 2 or 3 years old — before I had even begun school — and I stuck with that plan," she recalls.
Sarah graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2012 and received a MA in Curriculum & Instruction in May of 2013. She teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies in Portland, Connecticut and serves as the K-12 social studies curriculum specialist for the school district.
"When my parents found out I had a serious heart defect, they made a promise," says Sarah. "Although they had been told I might not live very long, they vowed to do everything they could to make sure that I lived a full life."
Sarah is doing just that. She enjoys hiking and kayaking, and is an avid cyclist. In addition to exploring Antarctica, she's studied abroad in Mexico, taught in London, been on safari in South Africa, ziplined in Costa Rica, and hiked in Israel and the Amazon rainforest.
"Today, thanks to the relentless efforts of my parents and the cardiology team at Boston Children's, I'm lucky to be a healthy 27-year-old with a pretty typical life," says Sarah. "I hope my story inspires other heart kids to grow up, follow their aspirations and explore the world in big ways."