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WASHINGTON (Feb 08, 2018) -
Kathy Thompson was taking her dog on a walk last year when she noticed a prickly feeling in her chest and a discomfort in her neck. She immediately went to the emergency room, where the doctor had her stay overnight for observation due to her family history of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). Over the next few days, Thompson would require a quadruple bypass surgery due to the severe blockages found in her arteries. That “prickly feeling” Thompson experienced was a heart attack. Because of her commitment to heart health before and after her heart attack, the American College of Cardiology has recognized Thompson in the “I am CardioSmart” contest.
Thompson’s maternal grandfather died of a heart attack when he was 30 years old. Her mother inherited FH and became cautious and aware of her own high cholesterol levels throughout her life, even taking Thompson to get her blood drawn at the age of 5 to discover if she, too, had inherited FH. Thompson’s mother, still alive and well, has never had a heart attack. Despite having similar cholesterol levels, their heart disease stories have been very different.
When high levels of low-density lipoprotein (or “bad” cholesterol) are inherited, it is called familial hypercholesterolemia. About one in 250 people are estimated to have been born with this disorder, but only 10 percent know they have it. Those who have inherited FH are put at an especially high risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
“I think the most important lesson that can be learned from my story,” Thompson said, “is that even though other direct family members have not had heart attacks…it does not mean that you will be spared.”
While recovering from the quadruple bypass surgery, Thompson discovered the FH Foundation’s website. There, she found an online community filled with individuals who had similar experiences and who she could have real discussions with about heart disease. She learned to advocate for herself in her own care and gained a wealth of other knowledge from the community.
“The network of people I found have been an emotional life raft for me,” Thompson said. “We all freely exchange ideas, recipes, tips about tests and questions to ask our doctors. We reach out and connect for support when the going gets tough.”
Currently, Thompson is undergoing bimonthly LDL apheresis, a nonsurgical therapy designed to remove LDL cholesterol from her blood. She is on a PCSK9 Inhibitor and takes a bile acid sequestrant to aid in lowering her LDL cholesterol levels. Thompson’s cardiologist, Sanjay Bhojraj, MD, FACC, with Mission Hospital, encouraged her to continue apheresis as the best treatment for the future of her cardiac health. The goal of this therapy is to extend Thompson’s life, allowing her to live a heart healthy life.
In addition to her medical treatment, Thompson makes sure to follow a healthy diet, focusing on eating plant-based foods and eliminating saturated fats. She also sets aside time to walk three miles each day, and plays golf or hikes regularly throughout the rest of the week.
“There is hope for those of us with heart disease,” Thompson said. “And there is strength to be found in connecting with others who share similar experiences. Reach out to others to help stay positive when you are facing cardiac challenges.”
CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the ACC. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established a contest to find individuals who were living well with heart disease conditions. Five individuals are being recognized this year.
Thompson’s story of living CardioSmart will be featured on CardioSmart.org as a positive example to people living with heart disease. To read more about her story, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Kathleen-Thompson
The four other “I am CardioSmart” contest finalists are Jared Blitz of Denver; Melissa Cappuccilli of Carlsbad, California; Michael Melstad of Banks, Oregon, and Collette Sroka of Enfield, Connecticut.
To learn more about familial hypercholesterolemia, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/High-Cholesterol/High-Cholesterol-Home/Familial-Hypercholesterolemia
The American College of Cardiology is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College and its more than 52,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more, visit acc.org.