Patient Stories

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Kathy Webster is CardioSmart

Kathy Webster was born with a heart defect that contributed to her developing atrial fibrillation. After two open heart surgeries, Kathy is dedicated to living an active and healthy lifestyle.

Kathy lost 60 lbs. in six months by counting and tracking calories and getting at least 10,000 steps a day.

Kathy received training through WomenHeart. She volunteers in the community and on the Board of Directors to help other women with heart disease.

I have become a true believer in how important weight management and exercise are to my health and well-being.

Kathy Webster: Atrial Fibrillation patient

What is your CardioSmart story?

I am celebrating two big milestones this year: 45 years since my first open heart surgery and 10 years since my second open heart surgery!

I was born with supravalvular stenosis that was properly diagnosed when I was 18 years old—the age at which I had my first open-heart surgery. I lived well for many years with no symptoms, receiving follow-up care from a cardiologist as prescribed. I was married to my husband Randy, had my awesome son Matthew, had a career of more than 35 years in bank management, and maintained close and fun relationships with family and friends—a great life in so many ways.

In my forties, however, I developed atrial fibrillation (AFib), which, along with the increased risk of stroke, brought on rapid and irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and shortness of breath. I had several cardioversions but the AFib and its symptoms kept coming back. I also developed aortic regurgitation, which progressed to where I needed to have a second open-heart surgery in my early fifties. During this surgery: my aortic valve was replaced, I had a Maze ablation procedure, one bypass because of a significant blockage in my left anterior descending artery (LAD), a repair of two aneurysms, and removal of scar tissue from my original surgery.

After the surgery, I went to cardiac rehabilitation, took my medications, and followed doctor’s orders. I felt great and had no symptoms at all. Then, about five years ago, the AFib and its symptoms returned, but they were largely controlled by an anti-arrhythmic medication that my doctor prescribed. Over this time period, I somehow allowed myself to gain 60 pounds. Once again, I developed symptoms such as shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, and increased irregular heartbeats. I attributed this to my heart disease, not my lifestyle choices.

When I met with my cardiologist at a routine visit one year ago, I learned that all of my numbers were bad—high blood pressure, high LDL, high triglycerides, and high blood glucose. My BMI (body mass index) was in the “obese” category. Since that time, I lost all 60 pounds, at a rate of 2 pounds per week over 6 months. I’ve done this by counting and tracking calories and getting at least 10,000 steps every day. All of my numbers are now in range, my BMI is in the normal range, and I have been able to lower my medication dosages. I have maintained this lower weight for 6 months and I feel great!

How do you work with your doctors and care team to stay on top of your heart condition?

I see my cardiologist, Dr. Loren Berenbom at the University of Kansas hospital regularly, and I feel that we have a great doctor/patient relationship. I feel comfortable asking all sorts of questions and he takes the time to discuss and explain everything until I fully understand. I talk regularly with the nursing staff because I have a mechanical aortic valve. I also take an anti-coagulation medication, do home testing, report my INR (international normalized ratio), and make medication adjustments when needed. I feel that I am a compliant patient, and do not hesitate to reach out to the medical team if I have questions or concerns.

What lifestyle changes did you make to improve your heart health?

My lifestyle changes entail counting and targeting calorie intake daily, and getting my steps in. I have become a true believer in how important weight management and exercise (or lacks thereof) are to my health and well-being. I take my dog for a 5,000-step walk every day. If it’s raining and I can’t go outside, I get on my treadmill.  I use hotel fitness centers when traveling, I park further away from stores and I use available time (in airports or when on conference calls) to walk instead of sit.

What challenges do you face? How are you able to overcome them?

My challenges are the same as everyone else who deals with weight management issues—I mean, really, who doesn’t love the taste of desserts, snacking between meals, or the convenience of pre-packaged food and fast food? I have to plan ahead to buy the right foods, allow time to prepare them, and choose to eat them instead of less healthy foods. When I travel, I bring my own food rather than relying on the convenience store and airport foods, which tend to be higher in calories and sodium.

Who is your support system?

One very important part of my support system is my golden retriever Murphy; he loves and insists on our morning walks! Of course, my family and friends—gosh, it is so fun and motivating to get compliments from them on my weight loss, which then keeps me focused on maintaining my weight.

I have received lots of encouragement, as well as confirmation of the health benefits, from my doctor and his nurse. After my second surgery, I received training through WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and I volunteer time in my community and on the Board of Directors to help other women with heart disease. My heart sisters from across the country and the cardiologists on our Board and Advisory Council have been so very supportive of me, in turn, I strive to support others, by sharing my success story with the hope that others become educated and motivated to make positive changes in their lives.

Do you have a personal motto? What inspires you?

Other women with heart disease inspire me. I have met so many women with so many different cardiac experiences—all of which affect their quality of life, and many of which are life-threatening. Yet, they work to personally thrive and help others do the same.

My 23 year-old son inspires me. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, and he has done such an incredible job of coming to terms with this disease—which requires constant, day-in/day-out attention and management. When I learned last year that my blood glucose level was just one point away from being considered pre-diabetic, I told myself that I must make lifestyle changes to fend off that disease--largely to honor my son, who through no choice or fault of his own, was diagnosed with diabetes. I needed to demonstrate to him and to myself that I could develop the discipline to lead a healthy lifestyle just like he must do every single day.

Kathy's Favorite CardioSmart Resources


Bob's Story: Atrial Fibrillation

Learn how Bob Ek and his cardiologist, Scott J. Pollak, MD, FACC, work as a team to manage Bob’s atrial fibrillation.

Marcus McCleery is CardioSmart

An AFib patient, Marcus lost a considerable amount of weight through diet and exercise. He maintains his heart-healthy ways and passes them on to fellow heart patients through volunteer work.

Fatty Acids May Help Prevent Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation

N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and fish oils help control AFib.

Early Intervention for Recurrent AFIB Most Effective

Early re-ablation effective in some patients with AFib.

Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.