Each photoshoot we have the opportunity to work with a new face. Ash Carlson not only has a particularly lovely one — we are also inspired by the unique challenges that she has overcome in her life.
During our photoshoot we talked about a life-threatening medical condition that was diagnosed at your birth. Tell us a little more about this.
I was born with a congenital heart condition called Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA). This was a birth defect which is not compatible with life and required modern surgery to correct. TGA means the arteries rise from the wrong sides of the heart, sending oxygen-poor blood to my body instead of lungs, and oxygen-rich blood to return to my lungs instead of going to my body. This is truly where you see a “blue baby” - one who does not turn pink once they breathe. Without surgery, TGA babies invariably die. In order to save my life, I was almost immediately flown from Wellington to Auckland by the Lifeflight Trust, in an incubator surrounded by nurses, doctors and my father. Once I arrived at Auckland’s Greenlane Hospital, I underwent surgery that first night to create a man-made ventricular septal defect. This defect is essentially a hole between the two lower chambers of the heart which allows oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich blood to mix. Some babies are born with this as a congenital heart defect which also needs surgery to correct. That man-made defect was corrected at the grand old age of eleven days, when I underwent an Arterial Switch surgery which had a mortality risk of one in twenty. Considering a newborn’s coronary arteries are about the thickness of a human hair, modern surgery was the only hope of restoring my heart to almost normal function. Thankfully the surgery was a success and I proudly wear my battle scars.
How has this experience impacted you and your family?
My condition caused a lot of worries for my parents and it took my mother five years to feel that I was “safe”. On the day I was born, it didn’t take long to determine that I was born with a congenital heart deformity. My mother’s first words to me were, “hello darling, you’re rather blue”. My father was also emotionally affected by this. He flew up to Auckland with me on Lifeflight the night I was born and did all my caring for the first four days on his own while my mother was confined to bed back in Wellington to recover. In this time my father was the centre of attention of the nurses as he learned how to do pinless nappies and nasogastric bottle feeds. My mother got to see me for a second time after being born on day four. By then I had had my first surgery, was comfortable, and out of immediate danger of death. My parents stayed by my side, comforting me and learning how to care for me post-surgery, up until I was due to be released after my final major surgery at eleven days old. Thankfully this surgery was a great success and the doctors were very pleased with my progress. It did take a while for my parents to adjust and worry less after arriving home, but being all back together at home with my older brother helped us settle into a new normalcy.
Do you have a health and wellbeing philosophy for your life today?
The health philosophy I have gathered from my experience is primarily cardiovascular. For me, this is ensuring my heart is healthy through regular exercise and eating reasonably healthily to reduce fat and scar tissue build-up in my heart. I love eating the right foods for my body to keep me feeling fresh and provide me with the energy to go out and be active.
You are also an accountant in the construction industry. Have you encountered any stereotypical responses to this?
I am an accountant, but despite what the stereotype entails, I am not boring. I am also dyslexic and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which has led me to pursue the skills that come naturally for me and build a determination, never to give up. I am a numbers nerd. I love using calculations and professional judgement to work through problems and every day brings a new challenge in my job. I was lucky enough to be diagnosed young and learn skills to limit any shortcomings I have in learning. I believe this advantage led me to where I am and ensured that I was not disadvantaged later in life.
What does ethical fashion mean to you?
Ethical fashion is sustainable, environmental and supportive of all those involved. ReCreate is an excellent example of this; creating sustainable fashion with material that isn’t at risk of being depleted, supporting their work force and donating their funds back into the community. This is a beautiful example of ethical consideration and action which benefit the communities they include, all while producing quality items of clothing.
How would you describe your relationship with clothing and has it changed over the years?
My relationship with clothing has changed over the years from purchasing cheap items that look nice but don’t last long, to purchasing staple items that are sustainable, reliable and good quality. This has saved me spending money on items that shrink and disintegrate in the wash and ultimately produce waste. This change has spruced up my wardrobe which now has unique, quality items that make me feel comfortable and confident.
If you could choose a favourite ReCreate piece, what would it be and why?
I am in love with the Divide Dress - there is nothing like a simple dress you can throw on and look effortlessly put-together in.
Do you have a treasured piece of clothing in your wardrobe and is it linked to a particular movement?
I don't particularly have a treasured piece of clothing, although there are some items that I will wear more often than others. I like to choose my clothing based on comfort and the confidence that item brings on a particular day. If I had to choose, my favourite item of clothing would have to be a comfortable but flattering, basic mid-length dress. Versatile and easy when you’re in a rush.