|My brother, Jason (Family Photo)|
From the moment Jason Carpenter came into this world prematurely, he was a medical nightmare. His lips, skin and fingernails were tinted a deadly blue. We soon found out that he had a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), or in other words, a hole in his heart. A small VSD usually requires no treatment and closes on its own. However, in Jason's case, it was much larger than the doctors had predicted. His hole would not reduce in size, which only meant one thing - open heart surgery. Now, this isn't a very heroic beginning, but heroism isn't genetic. Nobody is born a hero. Heroes are made when ordinary people are put into extraordinary situations.
Jason, my younger brother, was born in Philadelphia on March 26 and moved to Springfield, Pennsylvania in 2003. A great deal of his first two years of life was spent in the Intensive Care Unit at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, more commonly known by its abbreviation, CHOP. He had open heart surgery there, and was a favorite among the staff on the floor with his charismatic attitude. Despite being in pain, he never once complained or felt sorry for himself.
I believe Jason is a hero because of his strength, tremendous attitude, and bravery. When he woke up after his surgery with a breathing tube down his throat and I.V. lines poking into his body everywhere, including his neck, he didn't panic or cry. In fact, the night after his surgery, he woke in the middle of the night from racket in the hallway. Instead of pitying himself when he couldn't fall back asleep, he got up and walked, with an I.V. in his foot, down to the toy room to play with the Tonka Trucks. He did everything in his power to be a normal child. In addition to the potentially traumatizing hospital stay, his challenging recovery continued at home. A normal recovery for an adult having open heart surgery takes six to eight strenuous weeks. Muscle pain, itching, tightness and numbness are almost constantly felt along the incision scar, which runs from the patient's neckline to about an inch above their belly button, so it isn't a pleasant experience. Jason tolerated all of this with a smile.
After his full recovery, he went back to being as normal as possible. He is still very fragile, considering that his sternum was broken during his surgery and is now held together by wires. A bad fall or even a punch to his chest could break his sternum again and cause complications, and he will never be able to play football or any other contact sports. But, even that didn't stop him from being a normal two-year-old. The day he came home from the hospital, he discovered how exhilarating it was to jump off of the couch and dive onto the floor. He just wanted to be normal after his extensive hospital stay. Also, he is more prone to catch disease due to his condition, so he has to be careful with sharing drinks and coming in contact with ill classmates, friends, and even family.
A year after his surgery, he was selected to go on a Make a Wish trip to Disney World to meet his idols, Buzz and Woodie from Toy Story. He had the time of his life, and greatly appreciates his good luck and current health. He has just recently turned nine, and is a happy, almost ordinary child. In fact, the only visible sign of his surgery is the scar on his abdomen. He loves to ride his bike, take care of his pet turtle and play cards with me, his sister. He has still kept his cheerful attitude and optimistic outlook on life, which, in my opinion, is pretty amazing considering all that he has gone through.
This year, 40,000 babies will be born with the same condition as Jason, but I can't imagine any of them being more heroic than Jason. Jason is not a hero because he was born with a hole in his heart and survived open heart surgery. He is a hero because he endured more pain in his first two years of life than some people do in an entire lifetime, without a single complaint, and he managed to brighten up others' days along the way. I am very thankful to still have him as a younger brother.