Kathleen O’Brien, a Windermere agent in the Palm Desert San Pablo office at 44-530 San Pablo Avenue, learned early last year that she has a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which affects approximately 1 in 500 people. The condition causes the heart muscle to thicken and work harder, and can potentially result in a life-threatening irregular heartbeat. Symptoms are often diagnosed as exhaustion, especially during strenuous sports activity. Kathleen, a former San Diego State athlete, competed in discus and shot put, and upon graduating, moved on as a professional cyclist and triathlete. Her AAU team, Wilt’s Wonder Women (named for their sponsor, Wilt Chamberlain), was an 11-time National Champion.
“I didn’t know until January 2010 that I even had this condition,” says Kathleen. “Now I know that for young people, even athletes, it is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death, frequently in victims who are unaware they even have the condition.”
By increasing awareness about HCM, Kathleen hopes to reduce the number of deaths caused by the condition. Steps can include increased cardiovascular screenings prior to engaging in school sports, as well as expanding the number of automated external defibrillators available to schools, currently in short supply due to cost as well as user training requirements. Kathleen supports the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association (HCMA) in encouraging high school sports programs to enact an emergency action plan for HCMA and other life-threatening heart conditions. “I was fortunate to make it through my athletic career without serious health event,” Kathleen says. “I hope by talking about this condition, more people will know what to watch for, and get the medical support they need.”