Teen with heart defects works to educate others

NEIGHBORS

January 30, 2001|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BORN WITH serious heart defects, 18-year-old Johnny Gravel isn't supposed to sprint, lift weights, or play baseball or basketball.

So the Centennial High School senior went a different route: He became a competitive bowler. With a 200-plus average, Gravel has competed across the country. Last summer, he participated in the Junior Olympic Gold Nationals in Las Vegas.

Gravel's dedication to bowling is typical of his determination to make the most of his situation. "Even with limitations, my goals have always been high," he said. Now he is using his experiences to help educate other young people with congenital heart disease.

As part of a mentorship program at Centennial, Gravel contributes to a Web site maintained by the Children's Health Information Network. The address is www. tchin.org.

"I have a link off the Web site. It's called `Teen Lounge,'" he said. The link contains information about Gravel, and urges visitors to send him questions by e-mail.

"Hello All," he writes. "My name is John (Johnny). I have had heart problems my entire life including Aortic Stenosis, Subaortic Stenosis, and Coarctation of the Aorta. I have had one closed-heart surgery to repair my coarctation of the aorta, and three open heart surgeries ...

"Even with my problems I was lucky enough to play baseball when I was younger. As I got older and my heart problems progressed, I was told not to play anymore. When I first learned of this I did not like it, but quickly realized it was in my best interest to put it behind me. Not playing baseball is now not a problem. I have realized it is dangerous for me to play, and have found many other things to keep me busy."

Gravel says he gets three or four e-mail messages a week from young people dealing with heart conditions. Usually, they want to know what surgery, catheterization or other procedures will be like.

Gravel reassures them, saying that the procedures are "slightly painful" but bearable, and urges those who write to focus on the result - getting better.

He also played a role in getting Gov. Parris N. Glendening to name Feb. 14 as Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day. A proclamation sent to Gravel by the governor notes that congenital heart defects affect one in 100 children to some degree.

Gravel's mother, Sandra, said she simply sent an e-mail to the governor with the request. Most states have named Feb. 14 CHD Awareness Day, she said.

One of Gravel's proudest accomplishments is becoming an Eagle Scout. He received the honor at age 15, at a time when he was feeling his worst. A few weeks later, he underwent surgery to replace two of his failing heart valves. The surgery has made a big difference in his health and energy level, but he knows that more surgery is in his future. Those valves are expected to last about 15 years, Gravel said.

Still, he isn't sitting around feeling sorry for himself. These days, he's waiting to hear from colleges. Gravel says he plans to be a cardiologist.

Breakfast buffet

The Father Comyns Council, Knights of Columbus, will hold a breakfast buffet from 8 a.m. to noon Feb. 18 in the school hall of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 4795 Ilchester Road, Ellicott City.

The all-you-care-to-eat menu will include pancakes, scrambled eggs, home fries, sausage links, bacon, stewed apples, assorted pastries, juice and other beverages, and a toppings bar.

The cost is $5 for general admission for those age 12 and older; $3 for children ages 5 to 11; and $4 for people age 60 and older. Children younger than 5 will be admitted for free.

Information: 410-796-2023.

Young authors

Congratulations to Burleigh Manor Middle School students Sarah Keyes, Marie Pino, Faith Zhang, Uzma Ahmed, Lindsay Molesky, and Sooyoung Uhm.

Their poems and stories were selected to be judged in the Howard County Middle School Young Authors Contest, sponsored by the Howard County Chapter of the International Reading Association.

Judges selected "Phone Call," by Sooyoung Uhm, as the winning entry in the short story category. Sooyoung will read her short story at "Reading Day" at The Mall in Columbia on Feb. 4.

Her story also will be entered in the state level of the competition, sponsored by the association's Maryland chapter.

Allergy awareness

The third "Kids Talk to Kids Forum" for allergy awareness will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 8 in the library of the St. Paul School on Chatham Road in Ellicott City.

Prizes, beverages and educational materials will be available. Parents and children will be able to network and learn strategies for coping with allergies.

Registration: Tammy Bowers, 410-465-9669, or e-mail nutmom@ home.com or www.allergyaware ness.org.

Health fair

Hollifield Station Elementary School will hold a health fair from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 30 at the school.

Professionals - including a pharmacist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, allergist and pediatric ophthalmologist - will provide information and answer questions.

Everyone is welcome.

Information: the school, 410- 313-2550, or Loraine Frey, 410- 750-9678.

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