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Lexington woman says she's 'grateful' after heart disease scare

Posted at 1:51 PM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 17:58:00-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Just as the pandemic began, 33-year-old Katherine Thompson had a heart scare that changed the way she views her health and fitness.

"Everything sort of started back in March of 2020," Thompson said. "I thought, honestly I had some sort of virus. I kept spiking these fevers, and thought, 'Oh, give it you know, give it a few days' and 'Yeah, I'm healthy, it'll be fine.' And then after a few days, the fever started spiking up to 104 and I hit 105 at one point."

It had only been a few days since Thompson was running in an organized run, something she did on a regular basis.

"I was running half marathons," Thompson said. "And I've played soccer since I was three and a half years old."

She admits she thought she was healthy and that a heart issue was never on her "radar."

Once her fever spiked, she thought she might have the coronavirus and went to UK hospital.

"They knew I had an infection. So, they just started to do scan, after scan, after scan. And when they started describing the infection in my heart, once one of the scans came back positive for that, it sounded familiar," said Thompson, who is a University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of statistics and the director of graduate studies in the University of Kentucky's Dr. Bing Zhang Department of Statistics.

She said she had recently analyzed a data set about cardiovascular disease.

"I was just familiar enough with it from that setting," said Thompson, "So, when that came up, everything kind of clicked in my brain and I was like, 'Oh this is serious, like, this is a, you know, not a virus at all, a very different story."

UK diagnosed Thompson with infective endocarditis and within 24 hours, she was headed into open-heart surgery.

"Bacteria got into my bloodstream and I had a birth defect in my heart that I didn't know about," Thompson said. "So, the bacteria got stuck there and just sort of grew and grew. It was there for three or four months before they found it."

By the end of the surgery, her surgeons removed the infection from her heart and replaced two out of the four heart valves.


A year later, Thompson is still recovering.

"Right now, I walk a ton," explained Thompson. "I love walk-jogging. And so I'm about to walk-jogging 26 minutes which is great, and my record for jogging is four minutes in a row on the treadmill. Bit by bit I think, I'm trying to progress and progress at a pace that's good but not too fast and not too slow and just trying to figure out kind of what's next and what fitness will look like long term."


2021 Central Kentucky Heart Walk Chair and Commonwealth Credit Union President/CEO Karen Harbin stressed the importance of paying attention to health before it becomes something out of control.

"80% is lifestyle changes and exercise, eating right, controlling your medicine, knowing your symptoms; knowing your body," Harbin explained. "You can prevent heart attacks and stroke. Even if it is hereditary, the things you do in your lifestyle can prevent that. I talked about research and education, the person has to commit to knowing those things about themselves in order to make the changes they need to prevent themselves from being a fatality."

On Saturday, Thompson plans to walk in the Central Kentucky Heart Walk. The Heart Association asks participants to explain why they are walking.

Thompson said, "When I think about what my 'why,' is it really is because I'm not alone in this. UK Healthcare Dr. Hassan Reda -- everybody did such a fantastic job taking care of me. But the more I share my story, the more I hear and meet people with similar stories and so it really is about trying to improve heart health for the bigger picture and be a part of that mission you know now that I'm on the other side it's kind of like what can I do to pay this forward and help continue the trend."

Click here to sign up for Saturday's Central Kentucky Heart Walk.

"It'll be a pretty day," said Harbin. "Everybody walk and post your pictures, and help us raise awareness!"