Exploring what it’s like living with an illness that you can’t see.

With her heart beating fast in her chest as it tightens, and her breathing becoming heavier every passing second, she takes the last step up and makes it to the top. While she had only just only climbed a small flight of stairs, to Claire Hollinworth it felt like a marathon.

Claire Hollinworth looking like any other normal 22-year-old

Claire Hollinworth looking like any other normal 22-year-old

This is what it’s like being someone living with congenital heart disease. Every step, every breath, is harder because your heart doesn’t function like it should.

64,000 Australians live with congenital heart disease, varying from a hole in the heart to the underdevelopment of half the heart.

Claire is on the more serious side of the scale as she was born missing her left ventricle. Looking at Claire, she looks like any normal 22-year-old, and you would never guess that half her heart is missing. She admits that this can sometimes be a struggle.

“Playing a sport if people don’t know then it generally looks like I’m unfit and don’t look after myself,” she said.

“The only way people can tell is through my scar, I generally don’t show any physical signs of a heart condition.”

Dr Rachael Cordina, staff Cardiologist at the Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Sydney tells me of the struggles that her patients with CHD have to go through.

Dr Cordina, Cardiologist at RPAH

Dr Cordina, Cardiologist at RPAH

“One of my very sick patients who is a young women and has long blonde hair and is very attractive had parked in a disabled parking spot, she’s on the heart transplant list, she’s very sick, and lady came up and started yelling and abusing her for parking in a displayed parking spot and telling her she’s a disgrace,” she said.

“People think having a disability means you’re in a wheel chair or your obviously disfigured but having a very sick heart you can look completely normal on the outside.”


By Courtney Green