After she was stabilized and discharged, she went to her primary-care physician the very next day, who hooked her up for heart monitoring on an electrocardiogram (EKG), which measures electrical activity in the heart. She also had a heart sonogram (known as an echocardiogram) so her doctor could get a closer look at what was going on.
Again during the tests, Ketter’s heart rate soared into the 160s. Then, after mentioning she was having trouble climbing stairs, her doctor sent her straight for a stress test. After just a couple of minutes on the treadmill, Ketter had to get off. She wasn’t even able to get to the part of the test where they incline the treadmill.
“The blessed thing about it was that they were able to catch the heart rate on an EKG, because otherwise I don't know that they would believe me,” says Ketter. “You know, 40 years old, no health issues. Why would your heart rate be 160 or 150?”
The next stop for Ketter was the heart specialist, who she says listened intently, but wasn’t too concerned until she mentioned her problem climbing stairs. “I went for another stress test and flunked it terribly,” says Ketter. “I got on there and got acutely short of breath.” A tech did yet another echocardiogram, and wasted no time calling in the doctor who, according to Ketter, said, “Well, I think we know what's wrong. You have cardiomyopathy, a form of heart failure."
Her response: "That's impossible. I'm in great shape. That can't be right," recalls Ketter telling the doctor. “I kept up with my annual exams for preventative stuff. There was nothing wrong. I wasn’t even on any medication.“
“We Didn’t Realize How Sick We Were”
After Ketter was diagnosed, she and her sister Shaun Rivers had a cry-it-out moment, but they quickly came to the realization that there may be a genetic component to Ketter’s cardiomyopathy. Three weeks later their hunch was confirmed.
Even though she wasn’t experiencing noticeable symptoms other than being a bit tired, which she chalked up to work, Rivers went to see a cardiologist in the same office that her sister did. She “flunked” her stress test, too.
“They scheduled the echo the same day just like they did for Kim, and it was the same scenario,” says Rivers, who specializes in diabetes nursing care. “The tech left the room and went to go get the doctor. When the doctor came back in the room, he said, ‘Mrs. Rivers, you have heart failure.’”
How did he know? Rivers’ ejection fraction—the percentage of blood that the left ventricle pumps out with each heartbeat—was at 30%. Ketter’s was 20%. Super low. “We didn’t realize how sick we were,” says Rivers. Despite their newly shared condition, their doctors weren’t sure about the exact cause of heart failure, but they, like the twins, assumed genetics played a part.
Why Family History Matters a Lot