These are the words of a boy who should have died.
I’ve come to be known as a great many things across the span of my thirty year life. Comic book writer, outgoing heart health advocate, internet malcontent, real life malcontent, “that weird kid from high school who showed up dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl that time”, or even “Who the hell are you?” The odds are that if you’re reading this right now, you probably know me as any one of the things on that list. We all come to be defined by our deeds or attributes as our lives progress. It’s something that just can’t be helped because we simply can’t “get to know” everyone, so we often have to label them with our own snap judgments. Above all of these and any other words that might define me; the one label that I truly feel has defined me throughout my entire lifespan thus far is a single word.
I was born in 1982 with a congenital heart problem known as an endocardio cushion defect with a hypoplastic left ventricle, a congenital birth defect so rare that if you Google it, my name is pops up in literally every result. Until recently, children born with the defect were sent out of the hospital with their parents with it going unnoticed until the infant would die mere days later. Doctors have told my family that to their knowledge, I’m the oldest living survivor of my condition. This is due in part to the fact that not long after I was born, medical science advanced so much that my specific condition became identifiable and even treatable in utero. However, when I was born, the prognosis for children with my defect was so bad that none survived. If not for a keen-eared doctor, I would have ended up as one of those statistics.
For many years, my health problem was something I didn’t like talking about, not because I was timid or ashamed of it, but because it had become something I would have to talk about so much that the impact of my experiences didn’t hold the same weight for me anymore. They had just become words to recite to doctors at routine physicals or to politicians I was trying to advocate on behalf of the American Heart Association. With the recent success of crowd funding my latest comic book project, The Zipper Club with artist Brenda Lopez, I began to realize again the level of weight that my personal story continues to carry. Just as I would like for The Zipper Club to become a handbook for teaching children how to deal with adversity in the face of health problems, I began to realize I had so many more stories to tell on the subject. It helped to reconnect me with the power of a personal story.
Any way you slice it, writing any form of autobiographical work typically involves at least one or two degrees of a self-serving delusion of grandeur. Anyone who writes one of these things and tries to tell you otherwise is a lying goon, but I digress. I intend to try and keep this as low to the ground as possible and insert my own weird brand of humor and insight in an effort to break up some of the more tense entries. What I can promise is that this will not be a grueling, constant slog through my own personal sense of morbidity. Though it will delve into a fair share of morbid topics from time to time, the central idea of The Long Odds, more than anything, is celebration of life from a guy with the odd perspective of being written off for dead several times before he got a chance to truly start living.
I’m a writer. Statistically speaking, we’re not the sunniest bunch of people who ever lived. Like most who choose to pursue this as a profession, I deal with your standard depressions, anxieties, and the occasional feelings of inadequacy, but then again, who doesn’t? Unlike most stereotypes that follow writers, I’m not a drug addict, I only drink socially, have never smoked a cigarette in my life, and I’ve never entertained a serious suicidal thought. My condition no longer requires my having to take any form of medication and hasn’t caused me a single problem since I was eight years old. I exercise regularly and am working hard to expand the limits of what my body and my heart can take. I’m physically healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m ready to see what life plans to throw in my path next.
What will follow in the weeks, months, maybe even years ahead will be an uncompromising introspective into the large and small facets of my life as it’s been, as it goes, and what I hope it can become as the seconds on the meter of my borrowed time continue to tick upward. As unflinchingly honest as I and my admittedly spotty memory can recall (the rest, I’ll either find through research or will either come right out and say it may or may not be slight to total bullshit).
I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded at a great many things, but if being written off while lying in hospital beds throughout my formative years with stitches in my chest and tubes coming out of various parts of my body have taught me one thing, it’s that no matter how bleak an outlook gets, there’s no excuse to give up. My hope is that people reading this, no matter what their walk of life, whether suffering from health problems, or just chasing a dream that most of their family and friends shrug off as a fool’s errand, that my words will speak to at least one of them on an intimate level and help encourage them to keep fighting until they’ve spent their last ounce of strength and then getting in one more punch for good measure.
When that “worst case scenario” hits, when somebody tells you that anything you want to do is impossible, even when the only person stubborn enough to believe in you is you,
Take the bet and roll the dice.
The win’s always bigger when you’re playing the long odds.