A journey of the heart


February is American Heart Month, and this is a story about my heart — literally and figuratively. It’s the reason I am where I am today.

I was born with a significant heart defect called dextrocardia, as well as a ventricular septal defect. Basically, my heart was on the wrong side of my chest cavity and inverted — and it had a hole in it.

When I was 3 months old, my doctors told my parents that I needed open-heart surgery to close the hole. At the time, however, my mother was pregnant with my sister. My parents decided to wait until my sister was born before I underwent surgery. But somehow, for some reason, my heart decided that it had to be whole, and the hole I was born with began to close. My heart could stay as it was — imperfect and misplaced, but untouched.

Growing up, I found that I was doing a lot of things half-heartedly, so to speak. Schoolwork wasn’t heartening, and there were few things that excited me. I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but I couldn’t muster up the resolve to pursue that dream — LSATs, law school, internships, thousands of dollars in loans, six more semesters of school, and years of building a professional profile.

Deterred by these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, I remained listless through my early 20s. For a few years after college, I worked in sales. I was good at it, but my heart was definitely in a different place.

That is, until it wasn’t.

In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, also known as an irregular heartbeat. It’s fairly common among senior citizens, but as a 20-something in college, I was now a member of a not-so-enviable exclusive club. Over the next several years, I battled my irregular heartbeats, underwent more than a dozen cardioversions to restore the heart’s regular rhythm, and tried various cocktails of medications, all to no avail.

Eventually I met a cardiologist who specialized in adults with congenital heart defects — adults like me. He informed my family and me that the hole in my heart had reopened, and that it was substantially larger than it was when I was a child. This was causing my irregular heartbeat, and it would at last need to be closed. At age 25, because of the placement of my heart, I was about to undergo a potentially first-of-its-kind open-heart surgery.

On March 15, 2007, after five hours of surgery, I awoke with a heart that was beating normally for the first time in almost five years. Making it through that operation sparked something in my soul. Instead of whining about what I had to do to get to where I wanted to be, I decided to ball my fists up, dig in and do it. After all, I had just made it through open-heart surgery. Was there anything I couldn’t make it through? I finally sat for the LSAT and got myself into law school.

That’s the attitude that’s gotten me to where I am today. When I was burning the candle at both ends, cramming for law school exams and eventually the bar exams, I would remind myself that I was getting stronger. When I was struggling to build my own law practice while juggling my responsibilities as a husband and father, I would remind myself of all that my heart could handle.

Naturally, when I saw an opportunity to run for office, a chance to represent and fight for all the communities our local government has left behind, I knew that I could take the heartburn of an arduous campaign, and that I could win over hearts and minds. That’s the mentality that I bring to my law practice, and to my work with my fellow legislators.

The arc of my life’s journey is proof that we are all stronger than we know — that we are all more capable than we can comprehend.

Seth I. Koslow represents Nassau County’s 5th Legislative District.