|Image provided by Alvimann|
"Remember, I’m tough as the Hulk."
My tiny 5-year-old never misses an opportunity to remind me how strong he is, whether it’s carrying a heavy box or faux wrestling with me using his Hulk gloves. He leaves a trail of super hero accoutrements throughout the house, ranging from capes and books to action figures and stickers. He was Batman this past Halloween and, five months later, still dresses up to fight the bad guys he imagines lurk around our house.
But, unlike most super heroes who change their shirts to make the transformation from their mortal selves, Ryan needs only to take his off.
In the middle of his chest, where an emblazoned "S" or Spiderman logo might go, Ryan bears an 8-inch vertical scar. This scar reminds me of where Ryan was opened, four times before his third birthday, so doctors could repair his tiny heart. It reminds me of the frequent echocardiograms, holter monitors, X-rays, and daily medication that he submits to, taking it in his stride because it’s simply what he’s grown accustomed to.
It also reminds me of how fragile he is, even as he announces his superiority over the bad guys. It reminds me of his tiny size and how he is a better fit for Mighty Mouse than a bulked up comic book character.
But most importantly, it reminds me of how strong he is. Not just in the physical sense; that much is a given. Instead, I see his scar and think about the accomplishments he has already made—he has been a spokesperson for heart defect research and an inspiration for families of children with congenital heart defects. He has surprised even his doctors with his resilience and ability to weather any health crisis and come out stronger.
But then, there is also his actual lifesaving ability.
When Ryan’s father, Kirk, was 27, a routine doctor visit revealed high blood pressure. In most cases, the recommendation would simply be diet modification and exercise. But given Ryan’s medical history, Kirk’s doctor was overly cautious and recommended extra testing. Surprisingly, the tests revealed that Kirk has a heart defect along with a large aneurysm that would have burst unexpectantly within a few years. Doctors believe the aneurysm would have killed him, almost instantly, with no warning. Before Ryan was born, there was no reason to suspect that there were any cardiac problems in our family. Now, we've all been checked and Kirk is monitored closely for changes in the aneurysm.
Although Ryan knows about this, he takes it in stride as well. “Did you know I saved Daddy’s life when I was a baby?” He asks me, then, just as casually, he shifts the conversation. “Do you think I should be Batman or Spiderman when I grow up?” When I try to hug him and tell him that he’s already my Superman, he squirms and runs away. After all, there are bad guys who need to be caught.
Checking the lobster tank for bag guys. All clear!
Ryan read and approved this column, but he would like me to point out that he is now 8 and not 5.