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Estée Preda

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I’ve always been intrigued by scars.

I find it funny when people are ashamed of the scars they have on their bodies. I always question why someone would use different products or procedures to hide or eliminate their scars. To me, scars shine a light on who a person truly is. They are a glimpse into a person’s life and can be full of hope or full of sorrow. A scar is like a page in a book, it tells a story about an experience that a person has had.

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And boy, do I have a lot of stories.

Of course, I’ve got your basic, everyday scars just like the next person. You know, the kinds that everyone has from when they were clumsy little kids. Like the ones on my knees from tripping over my own two clumsy feet while running to the playground in Grade 6. Or the one on my elbow from when it came in contact with the hot metal tip of a glue gun during arts and crafts at a Girl Guide camp when I was 13. The usual.

But I also have the kind of scars that tell a more meaningful and complex story. The kind that, if I wear a shirt that has a neckline cut lower than my collar bone, trigger gasps, worried looks and questions. Lots of questions. The kind that illustrate the story of my survival, and the pain my family has had to endure to get me to where I am today. The kind of scars that, honestly, I am beyond proud of.

I was born in the year 2000. My parents knew before I was born that I’d be a handful. You see, in utero, I was diagnosed with atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), a congenital heart defect in which there are holes in the walls of the heart, causing oxygen-rich blood to mix with oxygen-poor blood. It was also discovered that I had a rare condition called situs inversus, meaning that all of my organs from the diaphragm down are backward.

Ten days after I was born, I had my first corrective surgery, gaining my first of many scars. This procedure took two hours and was to slightly reposition and, as my mother says, “tack down” the organs below my diaphragm so they would not twist or try to flip themselves into their proper positions. The scar that came from that surgery runs horizontally across my stomach. To me it represents my quirkiness. Situs inversus is very rare, and every time I go to a new doctor’s office, they are fascinated. I consider myself to be quite quirky and different, just like this scar. Very few people have the same scar as I do. Its original, just like me. Just like every individual.

After 2½ more months of going in and out of the hospital, I received my biggest and most meaningful scar. This one runs all the way vertically down my chest and is from a six-hour open-heart surgery to repair the holes in my heart. To me, this scar represents even more. It represents my empathy, my big heart and my perseverance. Typically, the heart is a symbol of love, so this scar is a representative of my ability to love, and my emotions. I literally wear my heart on my sleeve … well, my skin. The scar from my open-heart surgery also represents my strength and survival. This scar proves that I had the strength to survive AVSD, a rare and possibly fatal defect.

In total, I spent the first four months of my life in the hospital, having multiple surgeries, procedures and tests. The equipment that was used to support me was easily worth more than half a million dollars, and there were countless doctors and nurses who worked on me throughout the entire time. Even today, there are multiple doctors and nurses that I interact with annually and who ensure nothing has changed for the worse. Without the outstanding staff at McMaster Hospital in Hamilton and Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, I would not be here today.

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I was given a small chance of survival even before I was born, and if I did survive, I had a high chance of having Down syndrome, being blind or being deaf. Today, I am completely healthy. I celebrated my 18th birthday in May and graduated from high school in June, both times surrounded by my friends and family. I will be going to college in September to study early-childhood education with the hopes of one day working as a kindergarten teacher. I am an honour-roll student and enjoy participating in Girl Guides, reading and spending time with my friends and family. I enjoy swimming, going to the beach and working at my local YMCA, and although I still go to the hospital for yearly check-ups, my heart condition does not hinder my abilities in any way. I’m able to participate in any physical activity that I please without worrying about it. If it weren’t for my scars, nobody would know I am any different from the next person.

The thing is, I love my scars. I wear them as badges of courage and survival. They’re conversation starters. I often feel offended when people complain about their scars and I wonder why they would want to hide their best stories. I wonder why they call their survival an imperfection.

If you have a scar, big or small, meaningful or accidental, be proud of it. It’s part of who you are. It’s your survival story.

Olivia Hitchcock lives in Welland, Ont.