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Half A Heart This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

They knew before I was born that I was different. My heart was not developing fully. I had a rare heart defect, one often seen in children born with downs syndrome. The doctors performed an amniocentesis. I kicked. The needle scraped against my right thigh. I still have the scar – a fine white line. When the results came back, my parents were relieved. I did not have downs syndrome, however I was born with ‘half a heart’, a rare heart defect known as Tricuspid Atresia. In order to survive I had to have three heart surgeries.

When I was three days old I had my first. At two I had the second surgery, this time an open heart. It is my second scar, right down the middle of my chest. They unzipped me to fix an issue that nature could not. Between surgeries I went back home. My parents were cautious with me, but my five-year-old sister didn’t understand. Jackie was punished if she played rough with me. She was angry, and rightly so. I got all the attention.

I was three when I had my third and last surgery, another open heart procedure and my third scar. It does not show because it is right over the second scar. My parents and my sister visited every day. I would sometimes cover my face with my hands while Jackie was in the room. I did not want to see her. I was jealous of her. She got to leave with mom and dad – she got to go home. She had more time with them than I did. She was able to walk, bring herself places whereas I had to stay in bed all day. Tubes encircled my bed, connecting me to monitors that beeped. Doctors who drew blood and ran tests greeted me every morning. I felt that others controlled my life. In my eyes, my sister was free.

I was trapped.

I recovered from the surgeries and was finally well enough to go back home. My life became ‘normal’ again.

As I grew older I realized my sister is like my dad. She has a straightforward black and white personality. Snap decisions are what she is best at and revealing her emotions is her downside. She is the complete opposite of me. All sisters have their differences; ours are just more complicated. For sixteen years our relationship was distant. Surprisingly a gift brought us closer together.

I cried the Christmas of 2010. “Finding photos of both of us together was difficult,” she smiled as I continued to cry. The gift was a homemade photo album. She had been so anxious to show it to me that she had not bothered to wrap it. Under the photos are messages. Some are quotes she found on the internet and others are notes from her. Jackie does not put a lot of weight on feelings, so for her to express them and make a whole book from scratch showed me she was willing to close the distance between us.

After that Christmas our relationship changed. We had both been scared as young children. Now with the fear is gone, we realize why we were so distant. I got so much attention that Jackie felt unloved. The photo album conveyed Jackie’s emotions better than words. She was opening up, letting me in.

We are sisters and our nature to bicker and annoy each other will always be present. However, we are closer now than we have ever been. I have noticed our conversations are more personal. I am excited to grow with her, and tackle our fears together, knowing I have her support and guidance.

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