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
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…”