Today is G-PACTs 17th Birthday! Over seventeen years, one idea has turned into something so much more. G-PACT founder, and president Carissa shares a piece of her story, and who she is beyond her chronic conditions. You can hear more about Carissa and her story on our birthday Facebook video.

Those who don’t know Carissa, she’s one of the hardest working people I have the privilege to know, and call my friend. She built this G-PACT team from scratch; an idea that started before all our social media groups were so available. She helped open a door for many of us, became a resource for information; gave many of us a safe place to vent, ask for advice, and meet others who have similar conditions. For 17 years, she has worked hard, on her own and with a dedicated team to continue awareness efforts. G-PACT has become so much more than just a non-profit, and I for one, am honored to work along with you. -Samantha, Public Relations Director, Newsletter editor. 

I hear them talking outside my hospital door. I strain to try to catch a little insight into what they are saying before they all come in and look at me as I lay in a vulnerable state in my hospital bed. I’ve been here for a week and they are still trying to figure out how to manage my  combination of challenging problems. Words and phrases such as “complex patient,” “five organ transplant recipient,” and “gastroparetic” are commonly used to describe me. I feel uncomfortable as my case is discussed among the team of medical professionals caring for me. Is this how I’m identified? I’m already uncomfortable about being in a medical setting again, relying on others for so much, and losing my privacy. But the terminology being used makes me feel like I am a case being studied in a medical lab and not like I am a 40 year old young lady with a life outside of the hospital.

Although my chronic illnesses have had a profound influence on who I am and the direction in which I have taken my life, other aspects of my natural, developed, and learned identity have had an even bigger influence on the decisions I’ve made as I’ve had to change my dreams over the course of 23 years since my diagnosis.

In college when meeting new people, I never mentioned my health problems until it became inevitable. I did not want my new friends or professors to immediately identify me as being ill before they truly knew me. Throughout my Child Life Internship in 1999, I knew that I was working alongside one of the most highly expectant supervisors in the internship program. I wanted the full experience. I opted to not reveal anything about my health challenges in advance. This proved to be of great value. As she was doing midterm evaluations she noted that I had a unique sense of compassion for parents and children in the hospital setting. At the conclusion of my internship when I finally revealed my medical history, her jaw dropped. She said “That’s where that compassion comes from!” If she had known about my health conditions from the beginning, it would have muddied her ability to accurately see me as someone able to excel in that environment regardless of my personal experience.

My natural determination has pushed me to never give up on my dreams. The installation of good values growing up has helped me make decisions on how to take my challenges and use them in a way to benefit others. My education has provided me with a variety of skills which have allowed me the flexibility to adjust to new situations when my circumstances change. My creativity, art, and humor have provided me with coping skills crucial to survive extraordinary challenges. My experiences growing up created an identity which has led to the path I’ve taken throughout my adult life.

While the core nature of my identity will not change, other aspects influencing how I am identified now has, and will continue, to change. Had I not developed any health challenges, how I am identified now would not look exactly same. If people look back on my life and try to define it, some definitions will look quite different depending on who is asked and at what stage in life they knew me, but there will be consistencies with each definition as well.

I am not not a case, a body part, a medical record number, or a disease. I am so much more than my chronic illnesses. When medical professionals recognize this and treat me as a person with a unique and special identity, and not only treat my unique and special case, they will always be successful in curing me, even if they can’t cure my conditions.