Brave, Blessed, Strong: Amanda Olsen

January 19,2021

Hello. My name is Amanda Ritz Olsen. I am 36 and have four children. We are a military family and I have been married for 15 years. I enjoy yoga, reading and writing, the lake/beach and sunshine, alone time, and coffee and sushi. I love wrangling my four children and taking them to their various extracurriculars. They are my life and I am truly blessed.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my open heart surgery. I am thankful and indebted to my incredibly knowledgeable and fearless doctors, who led me on the correct path to healing. I am so grateful at a second chance with my life. I am forever in awe that I get to spend time with those I love and watch my babies grow. I will take it one day at a time and cherish every moment.

For those who need a bit of a background on my story, let me take you back almost eight years ago, when we found out that I was pregnant with my youngest, who is now almost seven years old. They found out that I had Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), a hole in my heart. These days, they are found easier than when I was young and are fixed rather effortlessly. I had this defect since birth and I wasn’t diagnosed with it until I was 30. While it was nice to finally know what had caused my breathing issues and various ailments from my childhood, it was devastating and scary to learn what was happening to my body. They wanted me to terminate my pregnancy and have surgery immediately, to repair my ASD. My husband and I decided to wait until after I had my baby boy. We went in to have the surgery when my son was 12 weeks old, yet after more testing, they discovered that I now had pulmonary hypertension (PH).

Over the past seven years, I have been on various medications and have been closely monitored by my doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I’ve been living day to day with this invisible illness. On the outside, I look normal. On the inside, my heart and lungs are furious. Some days I find it difficult to breathe or get out of bed and do mundane household chores. Other days, I run around a mile a minute and play catch up. I take this journey one day at a time and try my best to live life as normal as I can, enjoying my children fiercely and to no end.

In 2018, my routine bi-annual visit to Mayo brought me and my family amazing news that terrified, excited, and confused me all at once. The medications I had been on all these years, had lowered my PH pressures enough to have my ASD repaired! Having this procedure would allow my body to be a tad bit less aggravated by my PH and make me feel so much better on a day-to-day basis. It was tough at first, post-surgery, adjusting to my new normal. But gradually I felt stronger and more capable of anything that I set out to do. I am forever grateful and truly blessed for my second chance.

Yoga is a practice I like to incorporate in my life. One day, years ago, my instructor asked us to set up our intentions for the day, to develop a model or self-motto. She comes back to this often in her teachings and I always come back to my original saying. Thinking back to when she first asked us in class, my hands clasped at my heart center against my fast-beating heart with my heavy breathing, wondering if I could physically and mentally keep up with my practice of yoga, these three words came to my mind: Brave, Blessed, Strong. For I am BRAVE to take these trials and experiences and enjoy them without defeat, throughout my journey and all these years and struggles that I have encountered. I am BLESSED, every day, to have these moments with my children, my husband, my family, and my friends. I am STRONG, I will endure and keep on PHighting, mentally and physically, for as long as I have left here on Earth.

COVID-19 has put a damper on all of us. This I know to be true. Our lives have been forever changed, never to go back to our previous “normal.” But to those in the PH world, it has scarred us deeper than we could ever have thought imaginable. Living life with an incurable disease, is in and of itself terrifying. Throw in a deadly virus, and what are those of us with PH, or any disease, supposed to do?

For me and my family, the pandemic has been a curse and a blessing, so to speak. It has allowed us to slow down a bit, to live life and enjoy one another on a more intimate plane. This is not to say that pre-coronavirus we did not have family game nights and weekend camp-outs, but it means that we took a step back and truly appreciated what we had in front of us and valued our time together in a new way. What has the pandemic taken from us? Social activities and a sense of community. Extracurriculars such as scouting, gymnastics, and dance classes have been swept out from beneath our children’s feet. Hanging with friends in the neighborhood and attending school in person instead of a computer screen. Even adults have felt a stab at the normalcy of every day life- hanging with friends or co-workers, having someone to talk to and confide in. I truly believe our minds and our bodies have been depleted of basic human needs. I feel this deeply.

​Due to the pandemic, I have not had my yearly check up yet, as I keep putting it off, scared of traveling during this time. I hope to make a trip to Mayo soon to see how my test results turn out from my last visit post-surgery.

Thank you so much Team PHenomenal Hope for this chance to tell my story and the generous gift from the Unmet Needs Patient Impact Fund. I am so fortunate.

Amanda received COVID-19 relief funds from the Team PHenomenal Hope Unmet Needs Patient Impact Fund. Learn more about how this fund supports PH patients at teamph.org/unmetneeds.

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