Why I’m glad to have three kidneys and a heart condition

You are beautiful. You are precious. And you were created with a purpose.

Yes, you with the back problem that keeps you from doing the activities you love.

Yes, you with the injury that won’t stop bothering you, even though you had surgery weeks ago.

Yes, you with the hearing issue. You with the diabetes. You with the asthma.

Yes, you with the dyslexia, and you with the depression.

Yes, you—the girl who doesn’t feel “normal” because you don’t function the same way everyone else does. You are precious.

I’m convinced that everyone has some kind of struggle to overcome. Some of our challenges are more visible than others, but we’ve all got something. And it’s up to each of us to decide how to live.

I’ve got three kidneys and a heart condition.

Madeline shows off her new scar to her schoolmates. This image is from the book "Madeline," by Ludwig Bemelmans. Find more about Madeline at madeline.com.

Madeline shows off her new scar to her schoolmates. This image is from the book “Madeline,” by Ludwig Bemelmans. Find more about Madeline at madeline.com.

Yes, you read that right: three kidneys. I was born with duplicated kidneys—four small ones, with each pair fused together, instead of two large ones. When I was a toddler, one of my kidneys and the ureter that went with it weren’t working right, so I had surgery to have them removed. I’ve got a scar that stretches 5 1/2 inches across my middle, just below my ribs.

I’ve never been ashamed of that scar. It’s a scar of honor. It shows that I’ve overcome something.

It helps that Madeline, one of my favorite children’s book characters, also has a scar to be proud of. She had her appendix taken out. She even has a song about it! (Pssst—there’s more to read after the video.)

Thank you, Madeline.

But that’s not all. My siblings and I all have a genetic heart condition, passed down from our mom’s side of the family. It’s called Long QT Syndrome. It takes our hearts an extra long time to “recharge” after each beat. Because of that, a sudden change in heart rate could cause cardiac arrest. In other words, if my heart rate changes to quickly, my heart could stop working right, and I could faint—or worse.

It’s not something I like to think about. But with a little medication and some lifestyle adjustments, it’s manageable. We’ve all known about it since we were little, so we’re used to it.

It’s become part of who we are. And I can’t imagine life without it.

I clearly remember a comment one of my classmates made after high school graduation rehearsal: “I’ve never told you this, but I’m sorry about your heart.”

It surprised me. Sorry? What was there to be sorry about? I don’t remember exactly what I said back, but it was something like, “Thanks, but there’s no reason to be sorry about it.”

That doesn’t mean life has always been easy. One of my high school teachers was so precautious, we had a class drill over what to do if I fainted during class.

In dance class, my teachers knew that if I felt like I was dancing too hard, I might need to rest. They never pressured me to push myself beyond my abilities, and there was enough balance between fast and slow that I never needed to sit out. Dance was the perfect sport for me.

I dreaded P.E. class. I struggled through, not only physically, but emotionally. Despite being in great physical shape, I couldn’t run the timed mile in the required amount of time. It was too much for me. I had two other friends with health issues in my class, and we felt out of place as we walk-jogged behind the other students because we physically couldn’t push ourselves to run the way they could. I don’t know about my friends’ grades, but my grades suffered because of it. I got a “D” on a semester final because I wasn’t fast enough.

There were other challenges in P.E., too. But thanks to support from my parents and from others at the school, those challenges led to big changes in the school’s P.E. program. Future students wouldn’t have to struggle the way I did. (You can read the full story here, if you’d like. I wrote about it when I was still a teen.)

Yes, the things that challenge us really can make us stronger.

I’ve often asked myself if I would trade my kidneys and heart for new, “perfect” organs. The answer is always, “No!”

If I didn’t have three kidneys, I wouldn’t have a crazy fact to share during “Two Truths and a Lie.”

As for my heart, it’s helped me see the value in every day. It’s helped me realize that life shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s helped me take better care of myself. It’s helped me relate to the challenges others face.

The challenges I’ve had because of it have helped shape me. If I had a normal heart, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.

Your physical abnormalities, or whatever you want to call them, do not define you. The fact that your body does not work like everyone else’s does not make you any less valuable than anyone else. You challenges are just one small part of you, and the influence they have on your life is up to you.

You can let your challenges hold you back, or you can face them, embrace them, and learn to live with them.

You might have unique struggles, but you also have unique joys. You have the opportunity to grow in ways that no one else can. You can live a life that no one else will live.

You are beautiful.

You are precious.

And you were created with a purpose.

Don’t let the challenges keep you from becoming the person you were meant to be.

“For it was You who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” – Psalm 139:14-15

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