Heart disease didn't stop her from losing 125 pounds

Story highlights

  • When Heather Kern was diagnosed with congenital heart disease her life changed
  • Since exercising could strain her heart, Kern started calorie counting to lose weight
  • It took two years for her to lose 125 pounds, but now that she is lighter her heart is healthier
Heather Kern's heart had raced ever since she was 11.
It would randomly speed up at times and then drop back to normal. But those quirks didn't stop her from lacing up her boots for a hike every weekend or jumping in the pool for a long swim -- at least until she gave birth to her little girl in August 2008.
That's when her heart changed.
Two weeks after delivering her daughter Cindy, Kern realized something was very wrong. The 32-year-old began experiencing numbness in her limbs and had severe chest pain.
"My heart felt like a Ping-Pong ball -- it was going crazy speeding up and slowing down," she remembers.
Kern went to see a cardiologist in their new home state of Texas. She didn't know what to expect; for years doctors had shrugged off her symptoms.
She was stunned to learn that her problems were caused by heart disease. The new mother had a left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy, a congenital disorder that affects a small percentage of people. With LVNC, muscle fibers in the lower left chamber of the heart do not turn into solid muscle as they should during normal development. Instead the fibers remain and interfere with the heart's function.
Kern's cardiologist suspected that she also had Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia, an abnormal heart rhythm disorder that could potentially cause sudden cardiac arrest.
The diagnosis sent her into a spiral of depression.
"I thought I was going to die," she says. She had already put on 40 pounds during pregnancy and was now being told she couldn't do anything active that would strain her heart.
Life became a series of tests and checkups, shuffling in and out of the hospital. She had to get an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted, and was put on heart medication to regulate her life-threatening arrhythmias. Eventually, Kern started seeing a counselor to deal with the emotional pain.
"That first year with my daughter, I couldn't enjoy her because I was having problems, and I was sick," she says.
As she tried to cope with her new reality, she turned to food. Over the next four years, her weight ballooned. Food, inactivity and even her heart medicine caused her to put on weight. And her growing waistline was not helping her self esteem. She became so heavy she couldn't bear to step on the scale and refused to pose in photographs with friends.
At the start of 2012, she came across a weight-loss challenge on a couponing website. The challenge was between a group of strangers online who counted calories to lose weight. It didn't seem like something that would strain her heart, so Kern decided to join the group's challenge.
"I thought I'd try losing weight with people online. I figured if I fail it's not as bad because I don't really know them," she says.
So she cut her food intake by 500 calories a day, eating only 1,200 calories a