With February representing heart month, I am reflecting on the life I have led…the good times, the mistakes and regrets, the wise decisions, and most importantly, my experiences and adventures. I have lived an active and healthy life. I have explored the world, achieved a quality education, and been surrounded by people who love and support me. I feel so empowered and blessed.

But my life could look drastically different. When I was three years old my amazing pediatrician discovered an issue with my heart. After visiting a cardiologist my parents were told I would have to undergo open heart surgery for Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) repair. Putting it simply, ASD is a hole in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart. With a heart the size of a toddler’s fist and a hole the size of a quarter, surgery could not be avoided. I know this sounds serious, and it was, but I was fortunate. I had a successful surgery, recovered quickly, and have led a healthy life. The only lasting impact is a scar down my chest; a scar that has become such a part of me I couldn’t imagine my body without it.

I walked away from this experience with a scar; what an incredible blessing. While enduring this process, my parents were surrounded by individuals whose children were undergoing their fourth and fifth surgeries. What a difficult and trying time for those families and an enormous burden for such young children to carry. I often think of these other children, now adults, and wonder what type of life they have led and whether they even made it through their procedures. Most curiously, I wonder why I got the better of the circumstances.

I guess we will always have “what if” and “why me” times in our lives. When I find myself RSVPing for my own private “woe is me” moment, I keep these other children in mind. I am fortunate for all of my blessings, struggles, triumphs, and heart aches. It will take an entire lifetime to write my story with each chapter playing a critical role. This was a chapter in my life and without it, my story would be distorted. I am so thankful that my life began as an account of survival and strength when for many of the other children, heart surgery was their epilogue.

I am very fortunate to be alive…so are you. Live a heart healthy life, eat right, and exercise. Seek out your big adventures, check off those bucket list items, and write the most amazing story you can image for yourself. There’s no time like the now.

Kristin Streff Barnett

Hi, I'm Kristin. I am a feisty and frugal 30-something with a love for travel and adventure. My younger self pursued a career as an attorney, hated the practice of law and found myself unemployed during the Great Recession. Just bloody awesome. So I decided to take control and follow my true passions: traveling, writing (aka I’m not a millionaire), and making the world just a little bit smaller by encouraging other non-millionaires to travel to their heart’s content. My website www.abroadawakening.com/ and books (available on amazon.com under “abroad awakening) are dedicated to this cause. In my spare time, wait….what spare time? Let me try that again….I spend all my time working my day job, enhancing and growing Abroad Awakening, traveling (obviously), and spending time with my husband and two four legged children: Scout and Mose (don’t ask). We live a simple life, explore the world, and always seek new experiences and challenges. I have been truly blessed.