Learning to Laugh – Jana’s Story

image001Hi, my name is Jana and I was born in Fort Walton Beach, Florida on October 3, 1991.  I was flown to UAB Medical Center in November of 1991 and was diagnosed with a heart disease called myocarditis. I was told later on in life that most of the patients were boys because the disease was not common amongst girls and most of the patients did not survive.


Turns out, I was a miracle case being that I’m a girl and I survived.  I became a patient of Dr. Johnson from here on out. I don’t remember any of it since I was one month old so most of my story is told based on what my family has told me. I had tests done on my heart, tubes stuck down to my chest through my shoulder and there are pictures of me with wires connected to my body for EKGs and IVs.

My parents told me that the nurses loved me because I was always a happy baby.  No matter what they did I always smiled.  We have pictures of me smiling at the camera and at the nurses holding me which is comforting considering I was in a life or death situation.

image002The nurses monitored my heart day in and day out and my parents ended up staying at the Ronald McDonald House since we were from Florida. RMHCA housed them, fed them, let them stay as long as necessary and even allowed my grandparents to stay while they visited all the way from Connecticut.  My grandpa told me stories about doing his chores around the Ronald McDonald House to help out and said everyone was very nice and welcoming.

I was sent back home to Florida just in time for Christmas in 1991.  My heart disease was gone. I just needed to gain some weight back and see a cardiologist regularly.  Growing up, I was a pretty normal kid. I did gymnastics and played soccer for eight years. I found a love for music and that love was turned into a strong passion once I got to high school.

When I made varsity soccer in high school, my cardiologist decided to put me on beta blockers for my heart and I was forced to stop playing sports.  I was devastated and didn’t know what to do.  My mom told me to join theater since I sang my entire life and I got the lead roles in all the musicals we did in high school.  I joined every singing group I possibly could, took piano lessons, voice lessons, was on drum line in marching band and went to theater conferences.  image008It became my one true passion and ended up being the bright side of sad ending to my soccer career.

Today, I am a 22-year-old young woman who just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from Indiana University of Pennsylvania on May 10, 2014.  I maintained a pretty much full-time job as a certified sandwich artist at Indiana Subway throughout college. I made the Dean’s List all but my first two semesters away at school and learned the importance of life, friends and pursuing your dreams.  One thing that impacted me most when I graduated was my coworkers came to support me at my graduation and they had all contributed to a scrapbook for me.  This scrapbook was in the making for a year and they all wrote messages about their time with me at IUP.  I was all ready to thank them for supporting me and helping me become who I was today, and I did, but I was surprised that they all wrote about how I had influenced or changed their lives one way or another.

I put two and two together from the pictures of me smiling at the nurses and the pictures I have from Subway of me laughing with my coworkers and realized that you can’t take life too seriously. If you look closely at the pictures from either event in my life you can see the wires from the hospital IVs or the scar on my shoulder 22 years later. I mostly learned that if you can make one person laugh every day, then none of the wires and scars really matter.