Twelve years ago, when she was 40 years old, Kim was working as an ER nurse at a local hospital. She had been a nurse for 16 years. She was about to leave home for work but forgot something upstairs. When she got to the top of the stairs, she couldn’t catch her breath. Kim thought this was strange but brushed it off. She went to work to pull a 12-hour shift.  

During a change of shift report at work, Kim became ill. She was short of breath and had palpitations in her chest. She felt like she would pass out. Her coworkers assisted her to a stretcher­­. The ER nurse had become the patient. 

After a workup, Kim was advised to follow up with her primary care provider (PCP). She told her PCP about how she recently had trouble breathing while climbing stairs and slight swelling in her ankles.

Her PCP referred her to a cardiologist who ordered a battery of tests, including a treadmill stress test and an echocardiogram. She failed both tests. She couldn’t even complete the treadmill test because she was so short of breath. 

After the testing, the cardiologist told Kim she had congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is when the heart is unable to pump effectively to meet the body’s needs. This results in symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, ankle swelling, and even a cough.  

At first, Kim was convinced the cardiologist was wrong. She had no other health issues and worked out regularly.

When she saw her test results, she cried in disbelief. Her ejection fraction (EF), which is the percentage of blood that leaves the heart with every beat, was only 20 percent. A healthy rate is 55 percent or higher. 

The first person Kim shared her diagnosis with was her best friend and twin sister, Shaun.

Both are veteran nurses, they understood there may be a genetic component to Kim’s diagnosis, so Shaun went to get tested. Three weeks later, Shaun was also diagnosed with congestive heart failure with an EF of 30 percent.

They began to make lifestyle adjustments to manage their heart failure, which included taking medication every day. They had to learn a new normal. They mourned their old selves but relied heavily on their faith in God and His plan for their lives. 

Making changes to your diet is tough. Kim and Shaun absolutely love food, especially seafood and salt products. Cutting out salt from their diet was a huge part of their lifestyle change. With practice, though, they’ve learned to enjoy cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs. 

It’s also important to exercise at least three or four times a week to keep your heart strong. Kim and Shaun had never been big on going to the gym, but they love dancing — especially to songs by their favorite group, New Edition.

Kim and Shaun are lucky to have an amazing circle of family and friends to support them through their journey. Having social support can help you keep a positive attitude. It’s also good to have friends who keep you engaged and active in the social scene. 

Kim and Shaun feel it’s important to share their story to help others who are also living with heart failure.

To that end, they’ve become National Heart Association Ambassadors with the American Heart Association. They’ve also been able to share their story through GDavis Productions in a play called “Sisters at Heart,” which chronicles their journey living with congestive heart failure.  

Through their work, Kim and Shaun want to show others that they can live a healthy happy life with heart failure if it’s managed well.

There are many important things you’ll learn on your heart failure journey. Never be afraid to ask questions when talking to your doctor. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to manage your heart failure.

Know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index). Be aware of any lab results, take your medications, and complete any tests your doctor orders (and make sure you understand the results).

Get in tune with your body.  If you feel something is different or wrong, make your doctor aware of it. Keep pushing until you get answers. Be your best advocate. And most important of all, never give up.  

Kimberly Ketter is an adult/geriatric nurse practitioner and a certified diabetes educator. She received her undergraduate degree from Old Dominion University and earned her Master of Science in nursing at Walden University. Shaun Rivers is an advanced diabetes clinical nurse specialist. She received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Old Dominion University. She earned her Master of Science in nursing from Capella University. As identical twins and business partners, they co-own and operate Case Management Associates, LLC, a diabetes wellness center in Petersburg, Virginia. It’ a nurse-owned and operated clinic that uses a holistic approach to help people living with diabetes manage their condition. Kimberly and Shaun are both congestive heart failure survivors of 12 years and volunteer as Heart Failure Ambassadors for the American Heart Association (AHA). Kimberly and Shaun are consultants and partners with Gdavis Productions, a stage production company that produces plays with a message. They’re currently touring their new play, “Sisters at Heart,” which is based on their journey living with congestive heart failure. It’s their goal to entertain, inspire, and educate.