Two-time cancer survivor, heart transplant recipient shares story of survival

Two-time cancer survivor, heart transplant recipient shares story of survival

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - New year, new you, right? Well, kind of.

Every year, you have the same heart, and ladies, it just gets older. So, to all our fabulous females out there, if your resolution is to be healthier this year, it's time to start thinking about your heart.

That advice never rang truer than for Kim Leighton. She’s a two-time cancer warrior, a survivor of a massive heart attack, and the recipient of what one could only be described as a second chance at a second chance.

Kim said people jokingly tell her she has nine lives. That's because she's been sick so much -- surviving her first round of cancer in her college years here at UofSC and then breast cancer as a young woman. But Kim has always remained positive, active, and optimistic about her health until one late summer day in 2018 when it seemed like her luck was running out.

She told us her story at the “Go Red for Women” campaign photoshoot at The Graduate Hotel in Columbia, where she joined a group of women telling their stories to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke.

“I’m not the photoshoot type of girl, but I enjoyed it,” Kim said with a laugh. “It was fun. It's always fun to get glammed up and have your photo taken."

But for this, she’s willing to show her heart, especially because it’s her new one.

"The doctors didn't give me much hope,” Kim said. “I have three boys at home. I have a mom and a husband and I think I just needed to live for them."

Kim is one of this group of heart disease and stroke survivors representing the American Heart Association's "Go Red" campaign this year. They're spreading awareness about the signs and symptoms of heart disease, which is the number one killer of women. It's something that almost took Kim's life, too.

“It kind of frustrates me now, but we were in Disney World our first night,” Kim reflected. “I kinda felt it all, but I didn’t want to interrupt that wonderful vacation we had spent money on, we had been waiting on, my kids were so excited about. And I was the mom and I needed to take care of everybody.”

Kim ignored the symptoms. She suffered a major heart attack on August 31, 2018.

"I was at Barre 3 working out all the time and that didn't make a difference either,” Kim said. “It's sometimes your body just is doing other things whether you think you're healthy or not."

After months on a Left Ventricle Assist Device, or "LVAD," which quite literally kept her heart beating, Kim had a heart transplant on March 18, 2019. Looking back on almost a year spent in the hospital, Kim said she wants other women to start tuning in to their bodies and listening to the changes.

"Even if you think you're fit and it couldn't happen to you, it can. It can,” she said.

While Kim recognized the signs, heart attacks in women may not always present with chest pain. Ladies, you might have shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, unusual fatigue, indigestion or abdominal discomfort. All of those things should tell you to get into the doctor right away.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths in women each year. But 80% of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented by education and taking quick action if you have any of those symptoms.

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