Life ad­vice

MAT­TERS OF THE HEART Olympic cham­pion Cate Campbell, 26, may be in peak phys­i­cal health, but that hasn’t al­ways been the case – which is why she doesn’t take it for granted

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - as told to Adri­enne Tam

Olympian Cate Campbell on the deadly dis­ease that’s close to her heart.

Iwas born with a small hole in my heart, which for­tu­nately closed over with no need for surgery. As part of my med­i­cal screen­ings every year, I make sure I have an elec­tro­car­dio­gram (ECG), which records the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity of the heart. This is just to make sure that ev­ery­thing is still OK and my heart is work­ing as it should.

As an elite ath­lete you get very good at lis­ten­ing to your body, so if I ever feel con­cerned about any ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, I get them checked out straight away. And that’s some­thing I would tell every wo­man: be vig­i­lant when it comes to your heart health. Heart dis­ease is a silent and deadly con­di­tion. It is the lead­ing killer of Aus­tralian women with 24 fe­male lives lost every day.

My youngest sis­ter Abi­gail is only 16 and she has a heart con­di­tion called supraven­tric­u­lar tachy­car­dia (SVT), which ba­si­cally means she has a rac­ing heart. It’s a con­di­tion she has had for a few years now, and she gets sud­den bouts of fast heart rates which cause her to be­come dizzy or short of breath. These at­tacks usu­ally oc­cur dur­ing or af­ter ex­er­cise and can last a few min­utes.

Her at­tacks prob­a­bly started when she was about 12 years old. We had been play­ing a game of back­yard cricket and she started com­plain­ing that her heart “felt like it was jump­ing out of her chest” and she was start­ing to feel dizzy. Our Abi­gail is known to be a bit of a drama queen, so at first we told her that your heart gen­er­ally does beat faster af­ter you have been run­ning, and to stop be­ing a baby and come back to play.

But she was pretty in­sis­tent that this was strange so my mum, who is a nurse, took her pulse and found it was rac­ing over 200 beats per minute, which is ter­ri­bly high. We sat Abi­gail down and waited for the at­tack to end. Mum took her to see a GP and got all the rel­e­vant tests, and it was later dis­cov­ered that she did in­deed have SVT.

Abi­gail will be hav­ing surgery [called SVT ab­la­tion] later in the year to help her heart stop gen­er­at­ing too many elec­tri­cal im­pulses, which is what causes the heart to beat ex­tremely quickly. It’s a lit­tle scary know­ing that your 16-year-old sis­ter is go­ing in for heart surgery, but in the scope of heart op­er­a­tions this is on the very mi­nor side. Life for Abi­gail will be a lot less breath­less once she has this done. She is re­ally look­ing for­ward to that.

As women, I think we of­ten try to fix ev­ery­one else’s prob­lems be­fore at­tend­ing to our own, but it is re­ally im­por­tant to pri­ori­tise your health. Make sure you get some time to your­self, join a yoga class or a walk­ing group. Sim­ple things like eat­ing right, try­ing to re­duce stress – both phys­i­cal and men­tal – and get­ting enough sleep all play ma­jor roles in keep­ing your heart healthy and happy. Just do­ing lit­tle things for your­self can make the world of dif­fer­ence.

Most im­por­tantly, if you have any con­cerns make sure you speak to a pro­fes­sional. Don’t dis­miss it, be­cause the con­se­quences can be too great. Cate Campbell is an am­bas­sador for the Heart Foun­da­tion’s Mak­ing the In­vis­i­ble Vis­i­ble cam­paign. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit in­vis­i­ble­vis­i­ble.org.au.

“This is some­thing I would tell every wo­man: be vig­i­lant…”

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