One Day at a Time




photo by natalie haywood

photo by natalie haywood

Katie Clark’s smile lights up a room. It’s easy to believe that she is an accomplished teacher. She has the kind of welcoming spirit that children need to feel at school. It’s hard to believe, however, that she is old enough to have been teaching for 17 years and to have four kids of her own – a teenager, even. “Oh, I’m 40!” she laughed. It also may be shocking to find out that Katie, for the last three years, has been facing a life-altering health condition. Diagnosed with Postpartum Heart Failure in May of 2016, Katie has been thrown into a world of testing and surgeries, appointments and medications. With unwavering support from her family and close friends and an excellent team of doctors right here at home, Katie continues living her very full life and is learning to take things one day at a time.

For the past eight years, Katie has been the GT teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary. “I love what I get to do,” she said. “We have about 100 kids in the program this year, and I get to work with awesome kids every day.” In her spare time, Katie owns and operates her business, Sew Fancy, where she offers monogramming, embroidery, team uniforms, and promotional items. “It’s fun!” she said. “I don’t get to do as much as I’d like, but I have two amazing women that work with me, Deana and Melody, and they do really great work.”

At home, Katie stays busy as well. She and her husband, Matt, have been blessed with three beautiful girls – Kelsey (15), Maggie (12), and Brinkley (7) – and in January of 2016 they welcomed a precious baby boy, Wade, into their lives. “Family really means everything to us,” she said. “There’s a lot of running around with everybody, but we love going to the lake, playing games, watching movies, whatever it is. More that anything, we just love being together.”

After Wade’s birth, Katie realized she didn’t feel exactly right. “I just felt exhausted all the time, but I also thought that was to be expected,” she said. “I had a newborn; I was 37 when I had him. I had three other kids at home, and I was still working, so of course I was exhausted. I just kept going.” In hindsight it’s much easier for Katie to see that this was beyond normal. She remembers Googling her symptoms, reading the worst case scenarios, and pushing them out of her mind because that kind of thing doesn’t actually happen, does it? “I wish I had gone in sooner. Looking back, there were some signs I ignored that I should have taken more seriously. I just didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t have time to be sick.”

By the early spring, Katie remembers barely making it through the day. She went to their family practitioner, Dr. Bryan Bowen, and was immediately sent to Dr. Kevin Hayes, a local cardiologist and director of the electrophysiology lab at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System. “Dr. Hayes is my hero,” she said. “We are so lucky to have him here.”

In May of 2016, Katie was diagnosed with Postpartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM), an uncommon form of heart failure that occurs during the last months of pregnancy or in the months immediately following birth. It affects about 1 in 1,000 women in the U.S. “Most people have never heard of it. I never had,” Katie said. “You don’t want to scare pregnant women or new moms, but it’s important to know that it can happen. I wish I had known how serious this could be.”

At Katie’s first round of testing, it was discovered that her heart’s pumping function, the ejection fraction (EF), was an 18. A normal EF ranges from 55-70. Her heart rate was dropping into the 30s, and her blood pressure had gotten dangerously low. “My heart was literally failing,” Katie said. “I’m thankful to have received such great care from our local doctors when I did.”

Thankful for their beautiful family, Matt and Katie look forward to the new year with their four children: Kelsey(15),Maggie(12),Brinkley(7),andWade(2). (PhotobyBlueberryHillStudios)

Thankful for their beautiful family, Matt and Katie look forward to the new year with their four children: Kelsey(15),Maggie(12),Brinkley(7),andWade(2). (PhotobyBlueberryHillStudios)

Since her diagnosis, Katie has endured rounds of tests and surgeries and medications. She has seen a lot of improvements in her health, but it takes constant monitoring. “I have a pacemaker and a defibrillator now, which is not very common,” she said. “I’ve had several ablations, so many appointments, lots of medications. It takes a lot of time to manage all of this, and I know I’ll have to do it for the rest of my life. It’s not easy. I just keep going because that’s all I can do. I have to keep going and do everything I can.”

Katie and her team during the 2017 Texarkana Heart Walk, where they won an award for the most money raised by an individual.

Katie and her team during the 2017 Texarkana Heart Walk, where they won an award for the most money raised by an individual.

Outside of her inner circle, many people don’t know about Katie’s condition. “I’ve never shared my story publicly,” she said. “I don’t post about it on Facebook or anything. I’m private, and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, but if I can help raise awareness about Postpartum Heart Failure and maybe help one person, I want to do that. And I’ve never met anyone else with this disease. Maybe I can connect with someone that knows what I’m going through.”

Katie’s greatest blessings surround her daily. “My family has been amazing,” she said. Katie’s parents, Robert and Marilyn Buck, her twin sister, Kelly, and brother-in-law, Shane, her sister-in-law, Lisa, and many dear friends offer constant love and helping hands. “They are so supportive and so helpful with everything. I’ve really had to learn how to let people help me through this.” Katie also talks about her late brother, Rob. “He was only 37 when he passed away unexpectedly five years ago. Of course, we wonder if this is somehow related, but we’ll never know for sure. He’s my guardian angel. I know he’s watching over me.”

This year Katie is looking forward to settling into a new home with her family and each day thereafter – more trips to the lake, more game nights, more family movies. “Matt has been so strong for us and such a great father and husband,” she said. “My girls are old enough to worry about me, but I want them to see me living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of myself, and doing everything I can to fight this.”

Katie Clark smiles again, her eyes bright. “You really never know what someone may be going through. It’s important to be kind.” So often, struggles are not visible. You can’t always see what’s behind a beautiful smile. “I try to stay positive,” Katie said. “I’m always hopeful for new treatment options, new discoveries. I just want to feel like myself again, to go to work, and play with my kids. I’ve had to learn to slow down and accept help. We are taking this one day at a time and making the most of each day that we have.”