Eighth-grader’s efforts are all heart

Only 13 years old, Little Hocking resident Kate Liston is grateful for what she calls a second chance at life and wants to use that opportunity to help others.

“Most people don’t get a second chance, and I was given a second chance, and that showed me I needed to help people,” said the eighth-grader at Barlow-Vincent Elementary.

In April 2012, Kate collapsed during a basketball game with her AAU team, the Ohio Valley Sting, and suffered a grand mal seizure. She was diagnosed with long QT syndrome, a congenital heart defect that affects electrical activity in the heart and can cause arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Now, Kate’s out to raise awareness for her condition and encourage other families to have their children checked for potential heart problems, in addition to raising money for the American Heart Association. She’s the honorary chairwoman of Saturday’s annual Wood-Washington Heart Walk fundraiser for the heart association, and last week, she and her family helped organized a free event at Porterfield Baptist Church where more than 600 children received electrocardiograms, or EKGs.

“I was expecting maybe 200,” Kate said.

Melissa Liston said many of the families who attended have children who play sports. She noted Kate passed physicals for years prior to the seizure that led to the discovery of her heart condition.

A small number of the EKG tests at the event did raise some warning flags.

“There are at least 20 (who came) that … are being scheduled for further tests,” Melissa Liston said.

Kate said she wanted to have the screenings so other families “don’t have to experience what my family had to experience.”

The week between Kate’s seizure and her diagnosis was a difficult time for the family.

“The whole week, we (were) kind of in a daze,” Brian Liston said.

When she was diagnosed, the doctor told the family Kate needed to minimize her physical activity. That meant not walking to her grandmother’s house and definitely no sports.

“I was (scared) because I couldn’t play sports anymore,” she said.

Sting coach Tom Hardy remembers getting a call from Kate soon after she was diagnosed.

“One of the first things she said was, ‘I don’t want to let the team down,'” he said.

Hardy assured her the most important thing was to take care of her health and the team would be waiting for her when she was able to come back.

The next step was genetic testing, to determine the severity of her disorder. In the meantime, she was put on heart and anti-seizure medication and provided with an automatic external defibrillator. Her family, some friends and teachers were trained in the device’s use and CPR.

Four months after the genetic testing, the doctor told Kate’s family that with medication, a strict hydration program and other precautions, including the ever-present AED, she could gradually work her way back into sports.

“I was so happy,” Kate said. “The first person I called was my basketball coach.”

Hardy remembers that conversation too and the thrill in Kate’s voice. He was glad to have her back because of how happy it made her.

While Kate is a good basketball player, Hardy said her talents off the court – including how she treats her teammates, coaches, family and friends – are even more impressive.

“She is what you want your daughter to be,” he said.

Within two months, Kate was playing volleyball for Warren’s junior high team, and was back in basketball form by mid-season, her mother said.

In the fall of 2012, Kate decided to participate in the Heart Walk, about two weeks before the event. In that amount of time, thanks to friends and family, she was able to raise $4,000.

“It was kind of a God thing that that many people gave that much money,” she said.

She’s taken the effort to Facebook this year, with a page called Kate’s Kause. She’s already received $3,500 in pledges and that doesn’t count what other members of her team are raising.

Neither the Heart Walk nor the screenings are the first time Kate has done something to help others on a large scale. In 2011, she and a friend raised more than $3,000 for Ava Nichols, a young Waterford girl diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, by shoveling snow and seeking donations on Facebook. Kate had never met Ava but said she felt helpless when she heard of her diagnosis and thought of what her family was going through.

The generosity that her daughter has shown prompted Melissa Liston to note that while there may be something wrong with the way her heart works, “she’s got a heart of gold, and it’s a huge heart.”