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TGA, VSD? It’s (not) all Greek to me!

By Georgios Lampropoulos

I am sure that this sentence is all Greek to you but these were more or less the words that my cardiologist used when he said "George, the time for the surgery has come" because he noticed in my annual checkup last year that the conduit I have got in my heart had been severely narrowed. "Συγγεν?ς καρδιοπθεια" or "Congenital Heart Disease". No matter how you say it or no matter what language you say it in, a congenital heart defect is a term that stirs different emotions.

But I think it's time I introduced myself. My name is George Lampropoulos and I am a 30 year old guy from Athens, Greece. I am an English Language Teacher and for the last 3 years I have been living in my own place in the centre of Athens (yes, Greek people leave their parents' nests quite late).

I was born with a complex heart defect, in particular Transposition of Great Arteries (TGA) with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and Pulmonary Stenosis. I have been operated on three times in London: at the age of 3 at Great Ormond Street Hospital, at the age of 17 at Harley Street Clinic and my third time was actually just under 4 months ago at the Heart Hospital. Without going into great detail, I think it all sounds complicated enough to be entitled to call myself a GUCH patient. I guess that if you are reading this article right now you are probably a GUCH patient yourself, or you have a relative or friend who was born with a heart defect, or you are interested in finding out more about congenital heart problems.

Anyone who claims that living with a heart condition is an easy job is definitely not telling the whole truth. There are quite a few issues one needs to consider regarding these types of health conditions which affect you physically, psychologically and emotionally. On the other hand, such an experience can make you mature, strong and able to appreciate the important things in life.

What I have learned from my personal experience and think is really important is that you face and talk about the issue. I have been through several phases; feeling very sad, upset, desperately seeking TLC from family and friends, even feeling guilty or indulging in the pity of those around me. If I could give one piece of advice based on my experience it would be: do not play down your condition but do not overestimate it either. I really believe that discussing the problems that worry you regarding your condition, whether with your doctor or with your friends over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer, can only make things better.

I remember when I was very little I felt desperate to explain to people that "it's nothing serious, I can do all the things you can!" And I wasn't lying. My quality of life is just as good as it gets. I studied and lived in England for about 5 years. I have got a job that I always wanted to do. Living in the centre of Athens, I walk daily. I cycle to and from work and go swimming daily every summer. I go out with friends on a Saturday night until early the next morning, as most Greeks do. I travel a lot, have sexual relationships, attend a drama school, acting being one of my favourite hobbies. I volunteer in many projects here in Athens, and so on.

May I take this opportunity to thank all the staff at the GUCH Department of the Heart Hospital, especially my surgeon, the people at the Intensive Care Unit, the nurses at the 7th floor and the GUCH Specialist Nurses, with special thanks to Kerry Romer who supported me before and after my surgery.

As I once told my therapist, I have finally managed to answer the question that I have been asking myself for a long time: "why me?" Well, the answer is quite simple. "Because I am able to deal with it."

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