Published September 22, 2017

Fitness Inspiration: Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Survivor Kira Hersch

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At first glance, Kira Hersch is a normal NYC (superFHIT) mom. Upon closer examination, however, a few things stand out: her waist length hair (that she wears in two long braids that resemble battle ropes), her love for gangster rap and sneakers, and the fact that her pregnancy with her son Clark caused her to go into heart failure.

Kira was a total spin addict before she got pregnant. She knew she wanted to continue her fitness regimen throughout her pregnancy, so she didn't slow down once she got the good news. As she got further along things started to get difficult. She found herself out of breath earlier on in class and she started to have trouble taking full, complete breaths.  Soon, her morning commute to Grand Central was extremely difficult and she struggled to walk even a single subway block. At first, doctors assured her that some changes were expected during pregnancy; but eventually, they realized that someone in such great shape shouldn’t be having such difficulty breathing.

A few weeks prior to her son’s due date and after several tests, Kira was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy.  Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, or PPCM, is a rare form of heart failure that can happen to pregnant women between the last month of their pregnancy and several months after delivery. Essentially, the heart cannot contract forcefully enough to adequately pump blood to vital organs. Often PPCM goes undetected as the common signs and symptoms mimic those typical of late stage pregnancy.

After the birth of her son and understanding the severity of her condition, Kira was determined to exercise not only to get back in shape after having a child, but to strengthen her heart. In those first days of exercise, she felt like there was an elephant sitting on her chest when she was simply pushing a stroller around the city. But Kira was determined not to let the diagnosis of PPCM stop her from achieving her goals, so she took her son for a walk in his stroller every day… right past Fhitting Room.

Eventually, Kira walked into a class and her life changed forever.

We caught up with Kira (after class, of course, because we definitely couldn't keep up with her during the FHIX) and asked her about how she dealt with everything that was thrown her way.

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Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM) is so rarely spoken about. How were you finally able to arrive at the diagnosis, and what helped you through the process afterwards?
I am very fortunate to have had a fantastic team of Cardiologists who ultimately discovered the weakening of my heart. Had it not been for their comprehensive testing, I can’t even imagine what the potential outcome could have been.  Many people have asked me if I was scared after receiving the diagnosis, and of course, I was terrified.  Becoming a new mother with a serious diagnosis was overwhelming, I never expected my recovery after delivery to be in the Cardiac Critical Unit.  I can’t help but laugh, as I had this elaborate “birth plan” and I can assure you, it didn’t come anywhere close to what I experienced.  What significantly helped me after my diagnosis was to take life day by day.  I didn’t let the fear of the future unknowns overwhelm me.  I simply set tiny goals for each day and every day that I had a good day and felt ok was a huge victory for me.  I had a little mantra in my mind that I would just keep telling myself which was, “I can and I will get through this, getting better is the only way.”  I wouldn’t let any negative thoughts enter my mind, and I simply focused on what I needed to do to get better.  I was on multiple medications after my delivery for my heart, and there were a lot of less than favorable side effects. While I could not control that, I knew I could control exercising to make my heart stronger.  So each day I set a little goal, just to be able to walk a little longer, or a little faster.  I remember barely being able to push my son in his stroller without being out of breath. So eventually when I was able to take a Fhitting Room class and really push myself, it was a huge personal victory for me.

Who instructed the first class you took at Fhitting Room, and what inspired you to keep coming back?
Simon was my first instructor at the old location on Lexington.  I’ll never forget those first classes. Simon was friendly, welcoming and I never felt intimidated by the class or the program. As he always said: “everything is scalable!”.  I think Simon has probably seen the most of my progress over the years, he’s the reason why I completed my first box jump a couple years ago, and the reason why now I can jump on those 26’ boxes without fear.  I’ve been inspired to come back to Fhitting Room because I absolutely love the class, the FHITpros, the music, and the FHITfriends I have met along the way.  I love the community feel, and I’ve met so many wonderful people from the instructors to other FHIXers in class. Fhitting Room has offered me a class where I can really see my strength progress over the years. I remember when I used to swing kettlebells from the top rack, and now it gives me such a feeling of accomplishment to pull those kettlebells from the bottom rack!

What makes the biggest impression on you during a class? (music, programming, etc.?)
The FHITpros by far make the biggest impression on me during a class.  For the longest time I have been a part of the “Sunday Funday” 4pm class at 67th with Daury and Simon.  I love the energy that Daury and Simon have and I find myself laughing so much through class, and I love that.  Not only am I getting a great workout, but I am having fun while doing it and it doesn’t get much better than that.  I love the encouragement too. Simon, Daury, and Troy have all been known to see right when I am losing steam and to offer me some words that keep me going stronger.  And of course the music, Daury knows my love for Kanye, so there have been many times where I am fading and then he puts that Yeezy fire on for me and somehow I find some energy left in the tank.

How has Fhitting Room helped you in your post-partum transformation?
The Fhitting Room has honestly been such a happy place for me.  In my post-partum transformation and of course in my recovery from PPCM, I can confidently say that the fantastic programming of Fhitting Room has helped me to become the strongest that I have ever been in my life at 36 years old!  I am able to lift things I never thought possible and my great cardiovascular health was just confirmed at my recent Stress Echo test!  So while dropping the baby weight fast was a nice little bonus, I am mostly proud of my physical strength, and especially my heart’s strength.  My transformation is one of the most significant things in my life that I am proud of and I hope that my story can continue to inspire others.  I often speak to other women who are pregnant or post- partum and I take great pride in sharing the importance of healthy and safe exercise as I strongly believe that exercise played a major role in why I am here today to share my story.  My story and transformation has ignited this passion of mine to reach more women to inspire them to begin their fitness journeys and I am working on turning this into something even greater.

One of the benchmarks for people who have experienced heart problems is the stress echo. Can you tell us about your experience with yours?
The stress echocardiogram is a test that I have just about yearly to monitor how my heart is pumping under stress and recovery.  One of the most important features of the test is measuring my Left Ventricle ejection fraction, which sees how well my heart is pumping out blood with each contraction. To give you an idea, when I was diagnosed with PPCM my Ejection Fraction was in the low 20%, and now I am fully recovered to a low normal of 55% where normal is anywhere from 55-70%.   The test involves a treadmill and then the sonogram of my heart.  Among my Cardiologists it has now become a joke, each time I take a test I see how long I can stay on the treadmill before reaching my maximum heart rate.  I can say that this time I lasted over 12 minutes, putting me in the 95% percentile for the test!

What you went through with your first pregnancy was scary, are you considering having more children after your experience?
After my diagnosis there were a lot of unknowns.  My husband Rory and I are very grateful for the child that we have and that I had survived the diagnosis and we are comfortable with that.  Initially we were told that future children might not be a possibility and it would depend on my outcomes.  Of course, no one wants to have that possible choice taken away from them and it was certainly something we struggled with.  We are very fortunate to say that because of my faster than expected complete recovery from PPCM, my medicines being discontinued so fast, and the continual showing of improvement in my heart strength and function, that we have been cleared by my doctors to have more children.  So stay tuned, maybe there will be another future little FHIXer, so send us all of the good strong heart vibes :)

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