She's 48 years old, doesn't take any medications, and has no family history... yet Kari Boling - a wife and mother of three - is the survivor of a cardiac event.
On December 5, 2018, the Cardiovascular Medicine Nurse woke up not feeling well. She thought it was an inner ear infection or maybe the flu, but it turned out to be something that would change her life forever.
"I thought, "I'm just going to get up and make myself some soup or something," so I left the living room and walked into the kitchen and I remember grabbing the sink and thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to pass out." The next thing I knew I was on the floor and the dogs were on top of me licking my face, trying to wake me up," she recalled.
Kari's husband, Chris, took her to the Emergency Room, where she proceeded to pass out nine more times. That's when they noticed a terrifying pattern:
"What would happen is my heart rate would be like 80 [beats per minute], 60, 30, asystole - like just absolutely no heart rate at all," she said. Asystole is the most serious form of cardiac arrest and is usually irreversible.
After a night in the hospital, Kari thought she was feeling better. Then, when trying to text Chris her room number, she passed out again - for longer.
"I woke up to a room full of 15 people and they were doing chest compressions, because I flat-lined for 39 seconds," Kari said through tears. "They called a Code Blue."
"I couldn't believe it was happening. I mean, I struggle with it when I tell the story. I still feel like I'm talking about somebody else."
Surgeons inserted a pacemaker underneath Kari's muscle. The device is connected to an app on her phone and can alert her doctors if something isn't right.
"My pacemaker is programmed for a rate drop, so what happens to my heart rate is - I'm going along at 80 [beats per minute] and then all of a sudden, I drop significantly and then I just go asystole where I have no electrical activity in my heart at all," she described. "So, my pacemaker is programmed that if I drop 15 beats quickly then my pacemaker will fire. It will start sensing and it will pop my heart rate back up."
One week after Kari received her pacemaker, she estimated that her pacemaker went off 15 times. In reality, she found out it went off nearly 600 times in one week.
"I'm so fortunate that I was where I was and I got the care that I did," she said. "In the Quad Cities, we're so fortunate to have the cardiology care that we do. I'm sure I'm a little bias because I work there, but he physicians and the staff and the care that we have here - it's amazing."
Nearly a year later, Kari is feeling great and going to Mayo Clinic to see if doctors can figure out why this happened to her. In the meantime, she is telling her story and hoping others learn from it:
"I just kept thinking - of course it's not my heart. Of course it's not, because I'm 48 and there's nothing wrong with me - but it was - and it could be for anybody. I think we have to listen to our symptoms. We have to listen to our friends. We have to listen to our moms and sisters and our daughters that heart disease can affect us and will affect people we know and love."
Kari will share that message - and more - as the Featured Heart Survivor during the 2019 Quad Cities Go Red for Women Dinner. The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Movement is celebrating 15 years in 2019. Every year in the Quad Cities, it brings together a room of red for one day to educate women about the number one killer of women - heart disease.
"When I was thinking about doing this video and having to tell my story, I struggled because I wasn't warm and fuzzy and thankful and grateful and blessed right away," Kari said during her interview with WQAD News 8. "I was mad. I was not happy at all. I was signing the consent for the pacemaker and I was like - you've got to be kidding me. This is crazy. How is this happening to me?"
"I think it's okay to be mad. We should be mad. This is affected 1 in 3 women. We should be mad enough to do something and to support the American Heart Association and support each other as women."
If you are interested in attending this year's event, click here - and GO RED for Women! WQAD News 8 is a proud sponsor of the Go Red For Women Event every year.