By Catrina Leone
Illustration by Roger San Juan
When you’re living with a chronic condition, it’s hard not to put an expiration date on your life. I’m Catrina Leone and this is my story.
Some may be wondering what triggered me to title this article “The Heart of the Matter.” I can say it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or romance, but more to do with the quality of life. They say life is short, something we need to not take for granted. I am 22 years old, a college student, and a girl with a hole in her heart. Being born 2 and a half months premature was hard on my whole family, as my mom’s life and mine hung in the balance. It is important to note that I lived a seemingly normal childhood, one that involved nap time, beanie babies, backstreet boys, Barbie’s, and volleyball. All of which included yearly trips to my heart doctor. I did not have many restrictions on what I could and could not do. It’s like the hole in my heart wasn’t really there…but it was.
“You should find a boy to fill the hole in your heart.” That was a statement I heard frequently, it would take more than an emotional connection to fix it, believe me. I am a miracle baby to some, an inspiration to others, but to me, faith moves mountains, and I needed that faith that fateful day in November of 2014 when I found out my heart valve was leaking.
For those who know someone living with chronic conditions like Chron’s Disease, Tourette’s disorder, etc., you know first- hand how hard it can be. How do you help? What do you do when it takes a turn for the worst? You have to be there for them, always. When my cardiologist told my mom and I that my mitral valve was leaking, I had to ask him if he was kidding. Then, I found myself evaluating my life, wondering if it was my fault. That is one thing not to do; it is not your fault…at all.
After crying my heart out, I made the choice to not let my heart condition define me. I will define it. I will defy the odds. Am I afraid? Yes. Do I let that fear control my life? No. Life is a precious gift I do not intend to waste, and through my story, I hope you choose not to either. I am living proof.