Home is Where the Heart Is5 Members
We Walk to Save Lives!
2024 Birmingham Heart Walk
Home is Where the Heart Is
10 years ago today, January 6, 2024, I (Darby) was rushed back into an operating room, blood gushing out of every orifice and leaving an angry trail of red liquid behind me on the hospital floor. My heart was irrevocably broken, and I wouldn’t survive much longer unless it was fixed. However, it wasn’t the fairy tale heart break I learned as a child—this one was filled with stark white walls, masked faces that covered smiles and emotion, prognoses that openly scared my medical providers, and a deep sadness known only from an unspoken understanding that Death was actively chasing me. A connective tissue disorder paired with tachycardia, an enlarged aortic root, mitral valve prolapse, and a hole in the back of my heart were the main contenders supporting my exhausted and mostly bedridden lifestyle.
I had undergone open heart surgery 6 days previously, but on January 6, 2014, I coded. My overworked heart stopped beating, and a team of medical providers at Johns Hopkins fought valiantly to resurrect me. As I coded, my ribcage was cracked apart, my chest was hastily sliced open, and somewhere down the hallway, my parents were sobbing. I was miraculously resuscitated, and my mom and dad were told they had almost lost their little girl.
My body was externally protected in a frozen coma until I finally awoke, terrified, experiencing unimaginable and excruciating pain, IVs protruding from my arms, neck and feet, aggressive and painful chest tubes extending from my torso, my chest now marred by an angry purple open heart surgery scar that would forever alter the course of my life.
I was 17 years old, a junior in high school, and I had died.
The following years were filled with a determination to pretend this had never happened to me. I was filled with a twisted sense of childlike wonder, replacing butterfly wings and princess dresses for clothes which hid my scar, an unhealthy obsession with excelling at everything, and a belief that I could erase the past by simply not talking about it. I. Was. Fine.
Except that I wasn’t.
Every accolade, including my bachelor’s degree, both of my master’s degrees, my fellowship, and even my current roles, were and are fueled by trauma and an indescribable, yet deeply rooted, sense of fear.
I spent so long hiding what had happened to me, determined to figure out who I was outside of my open heart surgeries, that I stopped living for myself and mostly lived for the version of Darby I thought would satisfy and ease my loved ones and those around me.
10 years later, and not a single day has gone by that I haven’t thought about open heart surgery and it’s ramifications on my life. Trauma has resurfaced in unexpected ways a LOT, especially the last few years, and I finally started extending myself the grace to accept that I have undergone 14 surgeries which naturally comes with limitations. Some days are simply bad days, and that’s okay. I may never be fine, but I can be fine with that.
This year marks a huge milestone in my life, and it would mean the world to me if you joined my Heart Walk team through the American Heart Association. Regardless of whether or not you reside in Alabama, join me on this adventure, and let’s walk through life together with the hope of mitigating heart disease. All my love, XOXO, Darby