Kambe Padgett suffered from heart disease even before she knew she had it. “I was in the fight without realizing it,” she said. Growing up in a small town near Seward, Kambe was always sick. Her mom and dad took her to doctor after doctor, and they were told everything from “it’s the flu” to “she’s got whatever is going around and she’ll be fine.” Luckily for Kambe, her mom and dad knew better. After all, what child gets the flu in summer, spring, fall, and winter? The “flu” was a year-round ailment for Kambe.
PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAILS
On a family vacation to Hawaii, red-headed Kambe experienced zero effects from being out in the hot Hawaiian sun. No sunscreen. No sunburn. Not even a touch of pink. “That’s when my parents really became my health care advocates and my voice,” Kambe remembered. Kambe’s parents quit accepting the flu diagnosis and insisted there was something wrong with their daughter.
Their perseverance paid off. After several years of tests and lab work, Kambe’s doctor discovered that she had a hole in her heart. Kambe was diagnosed with Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). Unfortunately, her diagnosis took so long that she was well on her way to having a stroke. The only recourse to addressing her diagnosis was open heart surgery at the age of 17.
It all made sense to Kambe, who, as a teenager, just wanted to be like the rest of her friends. She wanted to be in cross-country and play basketball. Short of breath most of the time, Kambe was told by coaches and teachers that she was faking it and just wanted to get out of practice. “Being called a faker was hard to deal with,” Kambe recalled. “I would try to hide how I was feeling as much as possible.”
Hiding her symptoms worked until her cross-country coach called her mom and said she needed to come to watch Kambe at practice. “We have to hold a paper bag for her at the end of every race because she can’t breathe. She turns gray and purple,” he said. Kambe said that is when they started getting her into specialists. At 17-years-old and in 1989, the closest treatment option was in Seattle, so that’s where Kambe went for her open-heart procedures.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Fast forward to 2014, Kambe knew something wasn’t quite right. She was getting short of breath and light-headed. Kambe could feel palpitations often and started noticing that she just couldn’t go upstairs without having to stop to catch her breath. That reminded her of when she was a teenager and had similar issues, so she wanted to make sure she stayed on top of her heart health. So she made an appointment at Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute (AHVI). In the months before her appointment at AHVI, Kambe had undergone a double tragedy with the death of her brother and father within ten months. After her initial consultation, her doctor was certain that stress had something to do with her symptoms but decided to put Kambe on a heart monitor due to her history of heart disease. Within days of being monitored, Kambe was informed she needed an immediate heart ablation.
At this point, Kambe was referred to Steven Compton, MD, FACC, FACP, FHRS. Kambe has been working with Dr. Compton for nearly eight years now. She underwent five heart ablations and received a pacemaker during that time.
Kambe learned from her parents early on the importance of being her own health care advocate. “Who knows my body better than I do?” she said. “You really have to voice what you’re experiencing and have a good doctor that will listen and understand where you’re at and make the diagnosis.”
Because of her own advocacy and working with a physician who listens, Kambe recently found herself back in Dr. Compton’s office. “I’m having issues,” she said. “I still have an irregular heartbeat, and we’re going to tackle it.” It was after this visit that Kambe received a pacemaker.
DON’T IGNORE SYMPTOMS
Kambe understands the notion of ignoring symptoms. She did so herself a few years ago. “I know the signs and symptoms of heart disease, yet I ignored them,” she noted. Kambe went to work and complained to her boss that the drinking water tasted metallic. She learned that when things start to have that kind of taste, it is a sign that something is happening (a warning) and one should act upon it before other warnings or symptoms arise and it becomes too late. She ignored it. After work, she had dinner and experienced some terrible heartburn. She ignored it. After dinner, she went to the gym with her girlfriend. She told her girlfriend that her left side hurt, and she just wanted to go home and take a bath. Of course, her friend told her she just wanted to get out of a workout. They both laughed it off. Kambe ignored it.
Kambe made it home but collapsed on the floor by her bedroom door. Fortunately, Kambe’s 12-year-old daughter heard her mom cry out for help and took action. “When our daughter found me on the floor, she immediately responded by getting an adult (my husband) and remained calm,” Kambe remembered. “My husband called 911 and I ended up in the ER.”
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
From years of living with heart disease, it’s essential to Kambe that people understand that you can survive this. “Heart disease doesn’t have to be the number one killer,” she said. “I’ve had seven procedures. If you stay ahead of it, listen to your body, and know the signs, you can fight heart disease and stay alive.”
Today, Kambe serves as an Ambassador with Go Red for Women and the Alaska Heart Association. She strives to share the importance of heart disease education and CPR training any chance she gets.