Kimber MacWilliams has never let a little thing like a hole in her heart slow her down.
The 42-year-old Maple Ridge resident, who has lost count of the number of surgeries she's had to replace numerous pacemakers, has defied the odds.
MacWilliams was born with a hole in her heart.
She spent the first half year of her life in the hospital, and at six months, she had a temporary "banding" surgery.
"It's basically, in normal terms, taking a bandage, and putting it over top a hole in the heart," MacWilliams explained.
Doctors had to wait until MacWilliams had reached a weight in which it was safe to have the procedure done.
In some cases, a heart will repair itself over time.
"Many people have holes in their hearts when they're born, and it's just minor. It fills in and it's good to go," MacWilliams said,
MacWilliams was not as fortunate. At six years old MacWilliams had open heart surgery to fix the hole. It had not closed and her heart was having many difficulties.
Doctors were frank when speaking to MacWilliams' parents about her future. They were told that even with the surgery, there was no guarantee that she would live past 13.
MacWilliams said that her own built-in, natural pacemaker was torn, adding even greater risk to her health. Doctors had to attach an external pacemaker to her heart, because it wasn't able to run on its own.
She spent two-and-a-half months in the hospital before doctors implanted a pacemaker into her groin area because she was too small to have it put in her chest
Once out of the hospital, MacWilliams, with her parents' encouragement, lived as normal a life as she could.
"At six-and-a-half years old, when you have something implanted in you, you just work around it and go with it, and do the very best you can," she said.
At the time, a pacemaker could only beat at one set rate, so regardless if she ran, jumped, or sat still, her heart-rate maintained at 60 beats per minute. This caused MacWilliams to have trouble keeping up with other kids.
MacWilliams' next surgery happened when she was 13.
This time a pacemaker was implanted in her chest, and it had variable rates. It went anywhere from 60 beats per minute to 120.
"That was like night and day for me," she recalled. "It was like, yay! Let's go!" Since that time she has relied on a pacemaker for her heart to beat, and has had countless surgeries to replace and upgrade the pacemaker as research has led to new and improved pacemakers.
Pacemakers have a shelf life because they run on batteries, MacWilliams explained.
"The ones that have more gadgets, they're not going to last as long," she said. "The majority of people who have pacemakers are senior citizens. They're not out kicking a ball, running around, going to the gym... that sort of stuff. So it's quite fine for them. Their battery will last 10, 12, 20 years."
The ones she has had have "the most gadgets" MacWilliams said, as she has used them constantly.
"Those batteries will only last anywhere from five to seven years," she said. "The majority of time that I go in to have any surgery, it's usually because the pacemaker battery has gone."
She added, "As the pacemakers got better and better, I always seemed to get the newer, most improved kind of pacemakers."
Her current pacemaker will go no lower than 60 beats per minute, and will rise up to 195.
"But I'm also 100 per cent dependent on it," MacWilliams noted. "Some people may only need it 50 per cent of the time, or 25 per cent of the time, but this thing [pacemaker], it rocks."
MacWilliams continues to lead an extremely active life. Mom to her 16-yearold daughter Carley, she is currently training for a body competition, and has made lifestyle changes to reduce stress, as well.
Once, as an aerobics instructor, when participants were lagging behind, she challenged them: if she can lead the class relying on a pacemaker, they too can overcome whatever obstacles they're facing, and finish the class.
While there have been some small hiccups along the way, MacWilliams is thankful for the work doctors have done on her through the years.
"It kind of gets my goat when I hear people complaining, 'Well this doctor doesn't know what he's talking about, and blah, blah, blah.' But they're doing the very best they can with the technology they have," MacWilliams said.
She rarely talks about her pacemaker, and never uses it as an excuse.
"I kept it to myself," MacWilliams said. "When you have it when you're born, you kind of just go with it. I don't know life any different."
But she admits her challenges give her a different appreciation for life.
"When I was little I never thought I was going to get married, never thought anyone would ever want me," MacWilliams said. "But I was lucky enough to find someone, and we created the most beautiful little girl, to which I was told that I would never have, and I'm very thankful for it."
Making health last
February was Heart Month in Canada, and a recent study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that baby boomers have big plans for their retirement years, but their lifestyle choices are preventing them from living long, healthy lives.
For helpful tools, provided by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, to add more years to your life and more life to your years, visit: www.makehealthlast.ca