Twice the Passion
imberly Ketter of Richmond, Virginia, knew something
wasn’t right when she was short of breath after climbing
stairs at home. An athlete in high school, she considered that
maybe at age 40, she needed to start working out. But before
she could act on that, she became ill at work as an ER nurse,
and an EKG showed her heart rate was abnormally high, a
condition called tachycardia.
She took the EKG to her doctor and shared her concern of
being short of breath, particularly when climbing stairs. They
recommended a stress test, but her shortness of breath kept her from being able to finish
it. She knew something was wrong when the technician went to get the doctor, which is
not normal protocol. Kim didn’t believe him when he told her she had heart failure (HF).
“I made him show me the screen. I’ve seen enough of those to know what heart failure
looks like,” she said. “When I saw it, I just started crying because I knew what I was
looking at. And my next question was, ‘What’s my EF (ejection fraction)?’ When he told
me 20 percent, I lost it because that stinks. Those are pacemaker/defibrillator numbers.”
Immediately she called her identical twin, Shaun Rivers, who also lives in
Richmond. She knew that HF has a genetic component and wanted her sister to get
checked out. Shaun’s doctors were skeptical that she would have HF, but her tests
showed she did. “I looked at that doctor like he was crazy,” she said. “And when he
said my EF was 30, I lost it too, just like Kim.”
An intimate support group
While not wanting her twin to be sick, Kim admits that she was relieved at Shaun’s
diagnosis: “It meant I didn’t have to face it alone,” she said.
They started medication at the same time, and that was not a happy experience.
“The medicines make you feel really tired and fatigued,” Shaun said. “They make you
feel worse than you did prior to beginning treatment, until you get used to them. That
“The best thing about it was that we actually were going through it together,” Kim
said. “When one was feeling bad, the other one was usually doing well. It was like
having your own little support group.”
HF and other heart disease does not seem to be part of their gene pool. After the
twins were diagnosed, their other siblings were evaluated. Neither of them had HF.
There is some evidence that their father may have had HF, but he rarely went to the
doctor and when he did, he didn’t share the results with his family. “In hindsight, he
looked like a heart failure patient,” Kim said. “He would tire very quickly; get really
short of breath. He was overweight, and his legs would swell. So, he may have had
By Jon Caswell
Sisters Shaun RIvers (l)
and Kimberly Ketter (r)
Photography by Amy Vest