Heart Survivor Story: Sara Karlin

“When your heart doesn’t work, it affects everything.”

Portrait of Sara Karlin

Since childhood, Sara Karlin has had to adapt to the world. As a kid, racing around on a bike or diving into the deep end of the swimming pool quickly made her light-headed or even caused her to faint.

Karlin stuck to this cautious lifestyle for 60 years. “Doctors over the years knew there was something wrong,” she says. They just didn’t know what it was.

Nine years ago, a doctor at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute diagnosed Karlin with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is the most common genetic cardiac condition, but one that is very hard to diagnose because it affects each person differently. Personalized care for this condition is critical.

So at age 60, after a lifetime of limitations, Karlin finally started to get the treatment and support she needed.

“I was so skeptical,” says Karlin. “The doctor wanted to put me on medication and I just asked him what he would do when I’m back next week even more uncomfortable than I am now.”

He gave Karlin his cell phone number and said if she didn’t feel better in a few weeks, they would stop the medicine.

“Three months later, I asked him if this is how the rest of the world feels,” Karlin says. “I was far less light-headed, I could exert myself a little and not pass out.”

Next, Karlin has had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, and four years ago she had open-heart surgery to correct a problem in her heart.

Since then, she has been more active than ever before.

“I’m the one chasing my grandkids around. When I walk with my kids, they ask me to slow down and wait for them,” Karlin chuckles.

Even still, learning to trust her heart – and her pacemaker and defibrillator – hasn’t been easy.

That’s what holds me back, four years later,” says Karlin. “What will happen if I faint? I just have to push myself and then I see that I’m alright.”

Though she’s still learning to trust her body, Karlin is thrilled with her progress.

“It’s the most optimistic I’ve ever been,” she says. “I’m able to get out in the world and not be afraid that I’ll fall down.”