A horrid 24-hour period more than a decade ago changed Kate McCarthy’s life forever, while simultaneously not changing much at all.
As a child, the Brisbane speedster suffered from the occasional seizure. She would typically get one every couple of years before a massive series of seizures one day at the age of 10 forced doctors to install a pacemaker.
“My heart was unable to reset its own rhythm and I went from having a seizure every two years to one every two hours,” McCarthy told Aflplayers.com.au.
“So they put a pacemaker in the next day. It paces constantly, every time my heart beats it’s because of it and I wouldn’t be here today without it.”
Typical of an innocent child’s mindset, McCarthy was only concerned about the pacemaker’s impact on her athletic career.
“Sport was everything so that was my biggest concern.
“My cardiologist was happy with me continuing on with sport but there was always this question about contact sport — I was always told that contact sport was off the cards.”
So she turned her attention to track and field, specifically the shorter distances where she recorded a 12.06 second 100m sprint time as a teenager, and touch football.
Three years ago, after a decade of playing touch football, the Queenslander was searching for something new and decided a training session at her local Australian Rules club.
Given the uncertainty with the pacemaker’s ability to hold up under the force of a bump or a bone-crunching tackle, McCarthy initially only sought to keep fit.
But when asked to fill in for her team, she couldn’t resist a competitive run in a team environment.
“I didn’t tell mum or dad I was playing because I knew what their reaction would be. I tried to avoid as much contact as I could and it was a club game so it wasn’t too physical,” McCarthy explained.
“I started in the forward pocket where there wouldn’t be much contact but it wasn’t long before I was running down the field, absolutely loving it and haven’t stopped playing since.”
— Kate McCarthy (@katemccarthy24) February 5, 2017
She asked for her cardiologist’s opinion and received the all clear to continue playing. Three years of growing from strength to strength on the field ensured McCarthy’s ball carrying was too good to ignore for the Brisbane Lions.
Fully confident the pacemaker will hold up under the force applied on the footy field, McCarthy is bemused about the attention she receives.
Physiologically, her resting heart rate is lower than the average persons — maybe because of her athletic prowess — and you can notice the pacemaker’s presence on her body.
“It sits above my chest and just under my collarbone. I’ve noticed that because of the training, I’ve lost a little bit of weight with all of the running and the leaner I get the more you can see the outline.
“It’s becoming more visible each day and I can pretty much feel the whole pacemaker. It’s actually pretty cool.
“When I tell people I have a pacemaker, their first reaction is always one of surprise followed by a few questions about it. It’s the only time I really sit back and think that maybe it is a big deal that I have a pacemaker.
While it has no impact on her quality of life, the 24-year-old understands the importance of using her story to help raise awareness for others going through similar issues and is teaming up with the Heart Foundation to do so.
“People who have heart issues or anyone who is pretty young and has a pacemaker, or anyone with cardiovascular problems, don’t let it hold you back.
“If anyone says you can’t do things, I’m out here playing sport so maybe you can too.”
If you needed any proof of her capabilities with what she describes as a metal heart, McCarthy’s sensational running goal against Collingwood two weeks ago justifies her confidence in the device.
Despite a small, metal device ensuring she wakes each morning, McCarthy doesn’t feel any different in the scheme of things.
“It’s just normal to me now. I don’t think about it too much — sometimes I even forget it’s there.”