First-year student, Bailey Watkins, has dealt with congenital heart disease (CHD) since she was born. From near-death experiences to publishing a book when she was a first-grader, Watkins has a unique story to tell.
What is CHD?
“Congenital Heart Disease is a heart condition that you’re born with. For me in particular, I have Bicuspid Valve Aortic Stenosis. I was diagnosed when I was born, but my parents didn’t find out until I was three months old. It runs in the family; my second cousin on my dad’s side has it and my dad’s mom’s great aunt had it as well, and she died when she was 20 years old. Back then, they didn’t have the surgery available that there is today. I was lucky enough to have surgery when I was just seven years old, back at home in California. It was a procedure that lasted 24 hours and I was in the hospital recovering over a weekend and then they sent me home, but I couldn’t go to school or anything like that for about four weeks. My mom tutored me and helped me out with homework, which was very nice of her. That was my first surgery ever and from that, I wrote a book, called “Fix My Heart Please.” I entered it into a writing contest in the first grade, and I got published.”
How can people help raise awareness for CHD?
“National awareness day was Feb. 2; it’s called National Wear Red Day. I’m not the only one on this campus who has the same condition, but I really think that Maryville should know about this topic because you only get to live life once. I’ve had some near-death experiences, so it makes me realize that even more.”
Can you describe your most recent near-death experience?
“My most recent one was about two years ago. It was Dec. 18, 2016, and I was watching the movie “Rogue One” with my family. At one point, about halfway through the movie, I felt my heart start to race, I was out of breath, I had blurred vision and I couldn’t breathe or speak. I reached over and took my sister’s hand and placed it on my heart, and she immediately screamed for someone to call 911. Once the ambulance arrived, they put me on a stretcher and said that my heart rate was 180, which is a near-death heart rate. They asked my mom and I if we trusted them to save my life because they’re required to for confidentiality purposes, and gave me a shot in order to lower my heart rate. My eyes started to close, and I started to see a bright white light.”
“I went up to Heaven and I saw God. God told me that this wasn’t the end for me; I was going to be OK.”
“Moments later, I woke up. My heart rate was still at 180 and nothing changed. They decided to give me two more shots, and the same process happened. The third time, my heart rate lowered to 160. Since my heart rate lowered, they were able to put me in the ambulance and take me to the hospital. My heart rate went back up to 180 and my body was in shock from my head to my toes. After that, they ran tests on me. They did an EKG (Electrocardiogram), X-rays, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and a CAT scan. It took 24 hours for my heart rate to return to 60, which is my normal.”
“I chose Maryville because it’s a small school and I wanted my professors to know me and not think of me as a random student in their class. There’s also a Fellowship of Christian Athletes here, which I was a big part of in high school, Sequoia High.”
Has Maryville lived up to your expectations or has it fallen short?
“Yes, actually. So far, I’m meeting a lot of new people. I came here wanting to make a lot of friends. The people you choose to be friends with in college are going to be your lifelong friends, so that was important to me.”
How long have you been cheering?
“I started cheering in middle school. I’m trying out for the new STUNT team coming up here shortly. STUNT is where two teams compete head to head and they learn the same competition routine. There’s tumbling, pyramids, group stunts and individual stunts. Also, STUNT doesn’t do sideline cheer. In my high school, I was on the cheer squad all throughout high school. I was on the junior varsity team my first year, then the varsity team the rest of them.
What’s your major? Why did you choose that major?
“I’m in the nursing program here. When I was in the hospital in my first surgery when I was seven, I was inspired by the nurses there. I’ve known them for a long time and I’m still in contact with them even though I have a different heart doctor where I am now.”
What makes Bailey, Bailey?
“Most people don’t know that I play the alto saxophone by ear. I’ve been playing for nine years. I played in middle school and bought my first saxophone in fifth-grade. My parents actually discovered my talent. When I was just two years old, I was out shopping with my parents and we were listening to music in the car. A song came on, “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz, and it ran through my head. The second time I heard it, I spoke every lyric and I was only two years old. My dad thought it was beyond amazing and still thinks that today.”
Is there anything I didn’t ask in this interview that you wish I would’ve asked?
“I just want people to know although my heart condition makes up a large part of who I am, my experience through going to other schools, meeting new people and moving around has changed who I am today and it makes up a large part of who I am.”