Backwards Heart

Posted by Nicole Wachter in Life

Smile! by Michelle BreaTen fingers, ten toes, two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Nothing was missing; I was a perfectly healthy baby girl. My parents could not have been more proud. After those twelve stressful hours in active labor, relief exuded from every one of their tightened muscles. I was the type of girl who enjoyed making an entrance even then by doing a somersault before coming into the world head first. The doctors ran through the routine newborn screening and informed my parents that their rosy bundle was an average birth size and weight. Everything was functioning normally. I had a slight heart murmur but that was not a surprise. All the women on my mother’s side of the family have the same condition. However, there was a difference undiscovered by anyone at the time. The hereditary congenital heart defect, which most people would consider bad luck or just bad genes, was a medical blessing that saved my life.

I wanted to do it all: softball, volleyball, dance, track. My father, who doubled as the family doctor, told me I would need an echocardiogram, a sonogram for my heart. He remembered I had a murmur and wanted to make sure the strenuous activity would not make my heart stop completely. He did not know what was causing my heart to make the murmur sound. It could be a valve that did not close properly, a physical hole in my heart, or maybe God just using my circulatory system to make a rap beat. “Boom chiii…boom chiii.” I watched the cardiologist make a black and white film of my heart beating with the echocardiogram until he felt satisfied with his diagnosis. He told me I had a transposition of the great vessel. My confused expression cued my father to translate for me, “You were born with a backwards heart.” My “right ventricle” is on the left side and my “left ventricle” is on the right side of my body. The doctor did the whole good news, bad news bit: “The good news is you can play any non-contact sport you like until symptoms develop. The bad news is your heart is much weaker performing the opposite job it was created to perform. Therefore, when middle age comes around you will need a heart transplant.” The questions running through my head were endless, but I refused to let any of them escape. I hesitantly nodded my head that I understood and walked out of the office.

With the doctor’s permission, I played sports through junior high and high school. I was the fastest girl at Carterville High School and was destined to qualify for state competition if I worked hard enough. There was one practice in my training that was especially difficult. My steps pounded along the all-weather track while needles shot through every muscle of my body. The pain was incredible and my eyes glazed over. I could no longer see the finish line, but its presence was unmistakable. The sweat rolling off my brow irritated my skin and I awkwardly wiped the perspiration away. My breathing was heavy and ragged when all of the sudden something in my chest seemed to expand. A deep ache erupted. I was frightened, for I have never experienced a pain like this. It seemed impossible to continue at this point. However, my fear of the embarrassment in losing a race was overpowering. I told myself that it was nothing serious; just an excuse to stop running. Almost to the end, I ceased thinking, only making observations of the world around me. I forced myself to complete the race and collapsed on the turf. I gasped desperately for air while imagining my death right there on the football field in the middle of track practice. Nevertheless, I did recover and walked a lap around the track to stretch out my muscles. My chest was sore but the pain was fading. It was obvious what had happened; I had deprived my heart of the necessary oxygen putting unnecessary strain on my weak heart. I could no longer deny that I had a heart condition. My vulnerability had proven itself.

My knowledge of my heart condition was limited. Therefore, I began researching online to discover what I was too afraid to ask my doctor all those years ago. Transposition of the great vessel occurs during development in the womb. Babies are born with an aorta pumping blue, oxygen-deprived blood from the right ventricle to the rest of the body, bypassing the lungs. The pulmonary artery pumps red, oxygen-rich blood to the lungs and back. The great arteries are completing parallel cycles in reversed positions of the normal heart. Babies born with this disease are blue and must undergo a high risk surgery immediately. I should have died at birth without the surgery; instead, I became a medical miracle. The right amount of coincidence was present to give me life. The murmur the doctors discovered at birth was due to the blood rushing between the two ventricles of my heart. The blood was allowed to mix and then circulate a sufficient oxygen supply to the rest of my body. Immediately after this revelation, I bowed to my Heavenly Father to thank him.

My perspective on life had changed. I became a person who played it safe, avoiding risky habits. I am ever so aware of how easily my life could slip away. I want to postpone the inevitable open heart surgery as long as possible. The heart transplant will be expensive in so many ways: financially, emotionally, and physically. Every day I wonder if it will be the day. Regardless of what happens, I will never give up hope. I know the advancement of technology continues to increase my odds of survival daily. I have matured and grown spiritually by accepting the anatomy of my body as it is. I love my life no matter how backwards it may be.

Photo by Photo by Michelle Brea

About Nicole Wachter:

Nicole is a college student attending school in Illinois majoring in Biological Sciences with a Biomedical Emphasis.

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48 Responses to “Backwards Heart”

  1. Suneetha says:

    Yes, life is beautiful and it is worth taking all these precautions…Thank you for a lovely read

  2. Alicea says:

    I found your story increasingly interesting. I myself was born with a murmur and though I have yet to have a doctor diagnose the specific cause, your story has made me consider the possibility that I should. I would also like to say that your writing style is beautiful and very descriptive in the best way. Thank you.

    • Nicole Wachter says:

      Thank you, Suneetha and Alicea!

      Alicea, you might consider seeing a cardiologist if you have not already. It is scary to think they might actually find something wrong, but in my opinion it is better to know. My best friend just got diagnosed with cancer. Since they found the tumor early, he can now undergo treatment and work towards a long life.

  3. Caitlin says:

    I loved how you started, told, and ended your story. I couldn’t stop reading it until it was over.

  4. Bonita says:

    Life is a beautiful gift that we often take for granted. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story about the greatest gift God has given us.

  5. Clark Kent says:

    “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” -Mark Twain

    That quote reminded me of your inspiring outlook on life. I can do no less than commend your persistence in fighting the inevitable. Wonderful story. Wonderful outlook on life.

  6. Eric Walker says:

    WOOOOWWWW!!!! is pretty much all I have to say about that… I never even heard of such a condition. It’s incredible! Just keep on keepin on!!

  7. Caleb Snyder says:

    Wow, Nicole. This story is written extremely well, and I was latched on from beginning to end. I had no idea that this was going on with you all those years we ran track. 7 years and I had no idea. I`m glad you have a positive and headstrong outlook on your condition, because you inspire me to have a positive outlook on mine, except I didn`t have a heart murmur I just broke my neck. Anything could happen in my future and the possibility of surgery on my neck at 30 or 40 is very likely. I hope I can one day have as confident of an outlook as you do.

    • Nicole Wachter says:

      We’ll have to be surgery buddies then. Think they will let us have our operations at the same time so we can cheer each other on throughout our recovery?

  8. Dani McGrew says:

    Wow! What a story!
    Very well done, and thanks for sharing.

  9. james brown says:


  10. Crystal McDaniels says:

    Nicole, this is a beautifully written story. I was pulled in from the beginning and you did not let me go until the very end. Amazing writing that portrays a warm, wonderful personality.

    Best story I have read for a long while. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Theresa says:

    Honest, well written, and inspiring. Kudos!

  12. Lindsay says:

    Nicole, I knew about your heart problem, but never in so many details. I love you and I was completely rapped up in your story. It is so well written and inspiring. I too thank God for the miracle that is you! We are all blessed to have you in our lives.

  13. Trifecta Rep says:

    Loved the detail in the race…..thats the part that really got me

  14. Cortni says:

    I found this to be a very well written and moving short story. Very inspiring and touching. Keep playing it safe and cautious, girl!

  15. jon dalessio says:

    very inspiring and wonderful read!

  16. Zac says:

    Wow, that was fantastic.
    Shear brilliance, I loved it.
    I’m going to read it again!

  17. David K says:

    WOW! Nicole i had no idea, you are usually just so upbeat and perky all the time, the front you put on to hide this is miraculous! This is a greta piece of writing you deserve to win!

  18. Jennifer W says:

    This was beautifully written… it completely pulled me in. I never would have known, you’re always so chipper and positive… I can hardly believe when we ran together you knew! You are such an inspiration, you persevered and gave it your all- and won!

    You are absolutely amazing, and probably the strongest person I know.

    PS- And this story is incredible, I’m sure you’ll win!

  19. Trifecta Rep #2 says:

    Was a very inspiring story, i enjoyed every bit of it, especially the part about the rap beat that made me laugh.

  20. Laila says:

    This story was so incredible. I can’t believe it! Beautifully written story! Very moving and enthralling.

  21. Sarah says:

    Wow, I had no idea. The best of luck with everything. And oh yeah GREAT story!!

  22. Katie says:

    this is a wonderful story nichole. i admire you for being such a brave person.

  23. mjosborn says:

    This is an engaging and informative description of a condition that many people don’t know about. Some children are actually born with their internal organs entirely reversed. Surprisingly this can cause fewer problems than having partial reversal.
    You might consider expanding this article and submitting it to a print magazine or the newspaper. You have an interesting story to tell.

  24. Erin says:

    This was a touching story. I actually have seen a movie about “blue babies” (Something the Lord Made) and wondered immediately if that was your condition. What a miracle that your “defect” saved you.

  25. Rachel says:

    Great story! Very well written!! Wonderful!! :)

  26. Paige K. says:

    Amazing story! I can’t believe I didn’t know all of this. It was a really touching story that put a lot into perspective. :)

    Very well written too! I liked the ending and how you wrapped it up. Good luck with everything in the future! :) :)

  27. Taylor Davis says:

    great story babe. you’re a terrific writer and i hope you never actually need a transplant. optimism wins this time.

  28. cosborn says:

    Wow! Just wow. amazing story.

  29. Brock says:

    Well written; infused with emotion, spirituality, and most of all- hope.

  30. Sreyoneel Biswas says:

    I definitely learned something new about heart conditions, didn’t think it was possible. Liked how you started and ended it, it definitely leaves an impression.

  31. Lindsay says:

    You’re amazing and you inspire me!!

  32. Nicole Wachter says:

    Thank you all for your generous comments. Don’t forget to like my story on facebook too. That’s how you really vote for my story to win.

  33. Dan Mikalian says:

    Thats the exact condition? thats pretty interesting… Best of luck Nicole.

  34. Macey Donahue says:

    Great Job Girly! I knew you had a heart problem but i didnt know about the track story you told or that you could possibly need a transplant! But i know your gonna be fine cause God and I love you tons! besides we got alot of kids to raise together and a really big wish list of things to do! Love You Babe <3

  35. Brittney says:

    Wonderful story Nicole! I love your face and you are so super amazing, even if you are backwards! :)

  36. jessica jasper says:

    I’m confused. did you not have surgery to fix the TGV? I have TGV and had the mustard procedure at 3months. then a pacemaker implanted at 15.

    • Nicole Wachter says:

      I have not had heart surgery yet. I didn’t come out blue as baby so the doctors never knew I had TGV till my first echocardiogram. I’ve got another photoshoot at the end of this month, though. No one knows how or why it happened. I consider myself lucky.

      Was the Jatene procedure developed after your birth?

  37. Tara says:

    Nicole, you’ve done an excellant job with this and like many others, I had no idea this was going on! You did an excellent job of having a positive attitude and not letting this condition hold you back from doing the things you’ve wanted to accomplish!

  38. Reece says:

    Amazing story Nicole! I’m so glad you’re here with us today. I don’t think SIU would be the same with out you.

  39. Lilian Carmichael says:

    Hello Nicole
    My daughter was also born with her heart backwards. Everything you described, she had. She also went through all sorts of tests. When the doctors started giving her oxygen by putting a clear plastic oxygen tank over her face, she had a seizure. She was on life support for 1 week and during that time she had 3 heart surgeries. Sadly, she died at 4 months old.(January 28, 1996) I know that she is being well taken care of up in Heaven. I’ve been told this by a couple of psychics.
    What will always bother me and my husband, as long as we live, is the fact that 2 heart surgeons were basically ‘arguing’ as to what should be done: operate on her own heart or give her a transplant. Not knowing what to do, my husband and I left the decision up to the experts. Obviously, they made the wrong choice.
    Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her. She would be 15 this year.
    I congratulate you on your education and wish you a healthy and happy life. God has great plans for you. You truly are a miracle.
    God Bless You.
    Lilian Carmichael
    Toronto, Ontario Canada

  40. abbas says:

    wow thats cool…

  41. Darrell says:

    I too have a backwards heart, or so the doctors have told me. My story is essentially the same, I was born normally with all features, and what was thought to be a normal heart murmur.
    When I hit the age of 5 I believe, I went in for some tests and boy, it was a day to remember. The first hospital I arrived at and was hooked up to an EKG machine, worry and panic seemed to have set on the doctor’s faces. What seemed like in a desperate panic, they had rushed us to another hospital to see if the results were the same. By mid-day, I had visited all FOUR hospitals around my city, all coming in with the same results. No one could figure out just what was happening.
    Finally a doctor had done another ultrasound on my chest and finally noticed my heart wasn’t normal. It was backwards.
    There have been times too when I was about 10 years old, just started to learn hockey, I would develop insane chest pains. It would feel as if I was having a heart-attack at the age of 10, it was so powerful. Then on I learned I can’t keep myself fully active outside in sub-zero temperatures, otherwise my heart can’t take it.

    Regarding Lilian Carmichael’s post with the doctors putting a mask over her baby, I begin to wonder. Though I’ve never had pure oxygen fed into me, nitrous oxide aka ‘Laughing Gas/Sleeping Gas’ on the other hand really doesn’t sit with me like normal people. The last time I had it, I remember slipping into a seizure like state – constantly flailing until 3 doctors had to pin me down until I passed out. After I wake up, I wake up completely dysfunctional. I literally feel like I am drunk. I can’t move at all and the ginger ale the doctors give to me to ease my stomach doesn’t even make it down my throat without coming back up. Now I wonder if it was really my heart…

    Well now, I am 22 years old, seemingly healthy with no appearances to need any transplants in the future. Though I should probably check with my doctor soon, because before reading this story, I was never told I may need a transplant. Guess I’ll go in and see what happens.

  42. shawn hudson says:

    i thank you for this article, i just found out today that my 4 yr. old step son may have a backward heart. my wife is having a difficult time accepting this. it is a tremendous relief that this is not life threatening and that he will or should be fine until the time comes that he will need a heart transplant. i pray that you have a beautiful life and that you live a life that is meaningful and that your testimony continues to help people such as myself. thank you again for sharing this with the world. God bless you and all those in your life.

  43. Stephanie Cress says:

    This story was truly inspiring to me and it is amazing all that you have overcome! My 2 year old son has Situs Inversus with Dextrocardia and Transposition of the Great Vessel, which I found out I i was pregnant and they scared me because they could not get a heartbeat. I have to take him to the Cardiologist every 3 months to be sure he is still ok and have to control his environment but he is an extremely happy child and if unknown an outside person would not be able to tell. I wish you the best in life and reading this story helps me be more cautionary with my child and enjoy every second of his life because he is extra special, backwards and all!

  44. Nikki Miller says:

    I too was born with a “backwards heart”. I did not know it until I was 37 yrs old and had 2 heart attacks that required open heart surgery. I was then told about my heart being backwards. I was not very active as a child because I just could not breath when I tried to do anything and my heart would feel like it was going to jump out of my chest. My family just assumed it was because I was being lazy, but little did they know that I did have a legitimate excuse for not wanting to go play. I am now 44 yrs old and my cardiologist told me at my last visit that my open heart surgery saved my life, because without it, no one would have known that my heart was backwards and I could have just fell over dead one day and no one know why. I also was born with prenatal cataracts that cant be fixed and losing my eyesight more and more really scares me. I thought that I was seeing normal until the big E on the eye chart was just a big square……who knew that these problems could happen invitro and no one knows until problems arise in either chioldhood or adulthood. I am finding more and more things wrong with me that was “congenital”. Anyway, glad to know that others have survived this heart malfunction also.

  45. miles voice says:

    I too have a backwards heart but I’ve known about it my whole life and i thought nothing of it. But now that i’m 14 and in high school I am now encountering problems. I love to play soccer and I think its the greatest thing i the world and if i could I would play soccer all day every day. But as I was playing in a soccer game I remember not being able to breath and I had an unbearable pain in my chest, I stopped running and just stood there hunched over, panicking, and the coach pulled me out. The next day my dad took me to the doctor thinking i had asthma but they said there was nothing wrong with me but he did notice my really low heart beat. Now I feel cooped up not being able to do what i love.


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