Heather Kern was inspired to lose 125 pounds, after developing a rare heart condition. Two weeks after giving birth to her baby daughter, Cindy, Kern started to experience unusual symptoms, including numbness in her extremities and severe pain in the chest. After visiting a specialist, Kern was informed that she had a heart condition, called left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy.
Left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy is a congenital disease that affects the heart muscle condition of the muscular wall of the left ventricle – the chamber that pumps oxygenated blood through the systemic circulation. Instead, the muscle appears spongy in nature and “non-compacted.”
Normally, between the fourth and eighteenth week of gestation, the fetal heart muscle possesses this non-compacted aesthetic – a feature that is required for nutrition of the myocardial cells. Eventually, as the coronary arteries begin to develop, the thickness of the compacted muscle wall, alongside the mass of muscle, should increase; in turn, this helps to enhance the pumping function of the heart. In non-compaction cardiomyopathy, meanwhile, this development is arrested, leading to thin and dilated muscle walls and impaired cardiac pumping.
In addition, the cardiologist suspected that Kern was also suffering from Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT) – a condition that causes life-threatening arrhythmias, in response to catecholamine release from the nerve endings of both the heart muscle and adrenal glands. The ensuing arrhythmia prevents appropriate contraction of the ventricles of the heart and stops the heart from pumping blood effectively.
In light of this information, and believing her death was imminent, Kern experienced severe depression. During her pregnancy, Kern had already gained around 40 pounds and was instructed not to place any strain on her heart; this meant the new mother was unable to engage in any physically demanding activities or exercise.
Kern was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – designed to detect and correct cardiac arrhythmias – and was provided a cocktail of heart medication. However, Kern’s crippling depression caused her to turn to food and eat more and more food. The combination of a new regime of medications, a shift in eating habits and her lack of physical exertion caused her weight to rapidly increase. The more weight Kern gained, the worse her depression and self-esteem became.
Kern’s life turned around, however, when she stumbled across a weight-loss challenge online. The challenge involved counting the calories of their diets to regulate the amount consumed. Kern claimed it was easier to try and shed the pounds with a group of online strangers, since the fear of failure was not as significant.
Cutting down her calorific intake by around 500 calories per day, and consistently logging everything she consumed, Kern dropped 20 pounds in just six weeks. Seeing the benefits of sticking to a daily diet of 1,200 calories, Kern wanted to do more. Therefore, she returned to her cardiologist and enquired about performing some light exercise. Her cardiologist agreed, and Kern embarked upon a long journey to reach her target weight.
Each day, Kern would leave her home for a short walk; ultimately, this led to more physically demanding activities, as she gradually built up her endurance. Over the course of two years, Kern went from a weight of 260 pounds to 135 pounds – a total loss of 125 pounds.
Kern has now joined a gym, cut down on her heart medication and constantly monitors her heart condition. Her cardiologist believes her improved health is related to her weight loss. Speaking to CNN, Kern discussed her improved quality of life and change of heart:
“When I was diagnosed with heart disease, I literally thought that my life was over… But the huge weight-loss proved to me I could still do what I set my mind to. Life wasn’t over; it could be wonderful.”
By James Fenner