My Chinese name is 易詠鍶. Pronounced yì yǒng sī in Mandarin, and Yick Wing Si in Cantonese. My sister’s name is almost identical to mine – 易詠鈿 – the only difference being that the character 鍶 in my name has the word 心 in it, which means heart. My parents always tell me they like my name because of the 心, and I agree with them. It’s special to me.
This is because once I was born, I was diagnosed with TOF (abbreviation for Tetralogy of Fallot). This heart defect has four problems associated with it, and although this made up a big part of me, I still find it extremely difficult to explain because it’s so scientific. So here’s what I got from https://www.healthline.com/health/tetralogy-of-fallot :
- a hole between the right and left ventricles, which is also called a ventricular septal defect (VSD)
- a narrow pulmonary outflow tract, which connects the heart with the lungs
- a thickened right ventricle
- an aorta that has a shifted orientation and lays over the VSD
This prevented my heart from pumping enough blood to diffuse enough oxygen around my body, and it changed the way blood flows to my lungs. Some babies have a more severe case of TOF, and turn blue due to the lack of circulation in their body (they are called “Blue Babies”).
Fortunately, my case was a little milder, so I did not have that symptom – instead, I was born prematurely and I constantly had very little energy to do the simplest things. My mom would tell me about how it took me almost over an hour to finish half a bottle of milk.
In order to cure my TOF completely, I had to undergo an open heart operation (where they cut my chest open) very soon after birth, ideally six months old. However, at the time Hong Kong did not have the cardiothoracic surgeons who were skilled enough in treating babies so young, especially since the heart is still so small to manage. Luckily, my parents met a woman with a son who had a similar situation to me while waiting in the baby clinic. She suggested to go to Melbourne to carry out the operation – this was a risky move, but with the woman’s guidance and kindness, we were able to plan the trip successfully.
Obviously, I can’t remember what happened at the hospital – but my mom told me how I was giggling and smiling when I was carried to the operation theatre, and my dad said I looked like an angel in my white hospital gown. Don’t think the moment was that pure though, because I was giggling when I watched my mom and dad cry their hearts out when the nurses brought me away.
I was such a great baby, wasn’t I.
When we returned back to Hong Kong, my parents told me how my whole family came to the airport to celebrate my successful recovery. There were many videos of me playing in my crib, showing a red-white vertical line that almost reached my belly button. Ever since, my parents taught me to love my scar. They never told me directly that I should love it, but they never mentioned the scar itself. No one in my family did. They never pointed it out, criticised how it looked and my sister as well as cousins never teased me for it. It always felt normal to me.
However, when I was eight, I was finally questioned about my scar for the first time. It was during my Year 4 camp in the changing room. Everyone was removing their clothes, revealing chests that were clear of any scar. I didn’t really feel out of place right then, until someone took notice and asked me, “Oh my god, what is that?”
The question startled me at first, and I was taken aback. Not only was it because my family rarely pointed it out, but it was because I never really talked about it myself.
“Um, well, it’s a scar,” I replied.
“I had a hole in my heart when I was a baby,”
She didn’t answer. She looked quite confused, and I wouldn’t blame her. But she also seemed scared, and that was the first time I ever felt insecure about it. I remember looking at everyone else in regret, almost wishing I had their scar-free chests instead of mine.
I faintly recall asking my mom whether my scar was ugly once I returned home. Her answer still floats in my mind clearly though, and she told me this in her rapid Cantonese-english accent – “No, of course not. You should be proud of it, 鍶鍶.”
Until this day, her words still linger in my heart. I am proud and I have embraced it. I like to think of my scar as a reminder of how much my family love me, the selflessness of the woman who guided us, and how my doctors and nurses cared for me endlessly. It taught me to be grateful for the all the sacrifices and hardships they went through to support me. I am also reminded to have gratitude in the fact that I was given the opportunity to, well, live. Because of my close ones and doctor’s efforts, I am able to breathe, talk, walk, sing, dance, do sports, and do anything like anyone else can. A day never goes by without me looking at my scar in wonder of how much I love my family.
There still are times when I get a little frightened when people ask me what that line on my chest is, but the more I explained what it was to everyone, the more confident I was to have it. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind showing it off at this point. My parents even showed me a picture of my chest before I had my operation. It was nostalgic to say the least, that I once had the chest that I saw as ideal at a time – but the picture didn’t seem right, and it felt like something was missing.
To anyone who is taking care of a loved one who has TOF, or really any issue, I send all my love and respect to you for being so strong. Anyone should be grateful to have someone like you. And to anyone who has a similar situation to the one I had about my scar, I would like to tell you to not think of it objectively, and to think of the meaning behind it. It tells of how far you’ve come, what you’ve overcome and how powerful you are for being able to achieve all the things you are today.
This is the third part of my “Why I Love” series. If you managed to read all the way through without getting tired eyes, I congratulate you!
Thank you for taking your time to read something that took me a while to decide to post, since this is a more personal topic ❤