This past weekend I was invited to participate in the 1st annual Congenital Heart and Arrhythmia Symposium at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I was invited as an attendee, a vendor for my book, and a speaker during the support group session. I was excited and nervous to say the least.
Jon and I arrived about an hour before it started to get the vendor table set up and get the lay of the land. The planning committee was great and really had put together a very educational and fun day for everyone. There were about 200 people in attendance. It started with an introduction from Dr. Ian Law - division director of cardiology at University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. The keynote speakers were Mary and Coach Kirk Ferentz - head football coach for the Hawkeye's. After they spoke we could do a meet and greet with them. My dad told me, “If you meet Kirk Ferentz, you hand him a book!” and I did just that. They thanked me, we chatted briefly, and then we took at quick picture together. They were both very sweet and personable. Being as most of my family cheers for the Hawks, it's fun to be able to say I've met their coach now.
After lunch we got to attend three breakout sessions. Our favorite was “A picture is worth 1,000 words: Cardiac Imaging and Intervention in Congenital Heart Disease.” It was all about MRI imaging of the heart and CATH procedures that they can do now-a-days. Technology has improved so much! They can now do a valve replacement in a CATH lab. No more opening the chest cavity. No more invasive procedures. Our minds were blown. It was so cool. It was also encouraging to think that my next valve replacement surgery may be done in a CATH lab! I may have already had my last open-heart surgery…how cool is that?!
After the breakout session we split up in four support groups. They were for CHD patients, Men with ICDs, Women with ICDs, and Spouse/Significant others. I ask Jon if he wanted to go to the spouse’s one and he said he’d stay with me since I was speaking at the CHD support group. My speech went very well. It was only about eight minutes long. I shared a brief version of my story, why I wrote the book, how I heard about Help-a-heart’s support group and what benefits I have gotten out of going to their support group. Jon said the speech was very good. My Toastmasters club would’ve been proud.
Once the support groups came to an end we went back to our vendor table during a break and refreshment time. We could chat with more people and sell some books. My table was right next to another author table. Rob Besecker wrote a book about his journey with cardiomyopathy and rare form of muscular dystrophy. He’s seen the world and climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest. His book is called "Everest Strong." He’s a motivational speaker and a great guy. It was neat getting to meet him. He has done a lot more of these conferences than me so getting to observe him was a really good learning experience for me as well. I had to laugh in the car with Jon on our way back home. I confessed to him that my first thoughts when I saw Rob’s table was “I’m next to the Everest guy! No one will care about my book at all now! He’s story is so much cooler than mine!” But then I had to remind myself not to compare my story to anyone else. Everyone that was there had their own story of survival with a heart ailment of some sort. Rob and I were just the only two that had written our stories down.
At the end of the day there was a guest panel where four people got up and shared their amazing survival stories. Listening to their incredible stories of perseverance and survival just put it all back into perspective for me. I am not only there to help other people like myself, but I was also there to learn from other people’s amazing stories. There was such a sense of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced before. It’s like I’m part of a club that I never knew existed until now. It’s amazing the sense of confidence and security in my own story that that knowledge brings to my life.
Please let me leave you with this lesson I learned. You have a story. You have a club. You must start telling your story to find your club. Don’t fear what other might think. Start telling your story.
It was an amazing, educational, and fun weekend. I hope to have many more like it in the future.