Letter to the Editor | Why college students should care about Heart Month

Riley Bowling, Guest Columnist

February is Heart Month, so I believe it would be prudent to share my own experience with heart disease.

I was diagnosed with my congenital heart defect mere days after my birth. My parents were preparing to leave the hospital when a doctor stopped them, having noticed a heart murmur during some final rounds of testing. 

From there, my parents were fed with packets of information on topics that they, in their anxiety, could hardly understand, including one on my heart defect: Tetralogy of Fallot. Nine months later, I was in the hospital for my first open heart surgery, a day-long affair involving multiple repairs by a fantastic surgeon. 

Thanks to my operation, I lived a childhood free of any serious restrictions.

Of course, not having any restrictions does not necessarily mean I was completely free from the effects of my defect. I regularly struggled with shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pains, all of which were mild enough that my cardiologists were unconcerned when I brought them up during my bi-annual appointments. 

That lack of concern disappeared during my appointment in my senior year of high school, when an MRI revealed that a malfunctioning valve had caused the right side of my heart to grow. The year following was a non-stop stream of MRIs, CTs, EKGs and every other imaging exam you can think of — all culminating in an open heart surgery in 2022 during the summer after my freshman year of college.

It was during this period of my life that I found the Adult Congenital Heart Association, an organization committed to raising awareness about congenital heart defects and providing connections for people who have or know someone with CHD. 

Of particular importance is spreading awareness about the necessity for specialized care in adults, as less than 10% of adults with CHD are connected to a doctor who specializes in heart defects, especially in adults. While this is a terrible reality of adult CHD, it is also a marvel that life expectancy with a CHD has increased to where this can be a problem. 

As a result of the community I found through the ACHA, I decided to spread my passion to The University of Alabama and founded Bama Adult Congenital Heart, a university-focused branch of ACHA. 

Our message is this: heart disease is not limited to heart attacks and cardiac arrest — it can be found anywhere on a college campus. 

As Heart Month comes to an end, I would like to ask that you remember not only the sudden, extremely serious heart diseases that first come to mind, but also the everyday experience of the thousands of college students living with heart defects. Happy Heart Month!


Riley Bowling is the founder and president of Bama Adult Congenital Heart, a student organization focused on raising awareness for adults with congenital heart defects.