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25th August 2020

The Heart of a Champion

For Katharina Bauer pole vaulting is her life’s passion — or as she says, “her big love.”

The sport of pole vaulting is not for the faint of heart. Competitors sprint down a track and launch themselves into the air, summoning enough speed to clear a crossbar high overhead. The professional pole vaulter, Katharina Bauer, loves what she does and it’s not surprising that her goal is to take her passion all the way to the Olympics.

There was a time, however, when Katharina was unsure whether her heart was up to the challenge. As a child, she was diagnosed with a condition that caused her heart to have a perilously high number of beats. While a healthy human heart beats about 100,000 times a day, by the age of seven, Katharina experienced 6,000 extra beats daily. In 2009, she underwent her first heart surgery. Her condition eventually worsened to 18,000 extra beats per day, leading to a second heart surgery eight years later.

Despite these challenges, Katharina continued to compete as a professional pole vaulter and captured a gold medal at the 2018 German Indoor Athletics Championship. At a regular health check after the event, her doctor detected another type of abnormal heartbeat — one Katharina learned can cause ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac death. The next day, she made the decision to get a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator (S-ICD).

In April 2018, she was implanted with the S-ICD, which includes a pulse generator and lead placed just under the skin. It monitors Katharina’s heart and sends an electrical shock if it beats abnormally fast, protecting her from sudden cardiac arrest. With continued medical supervision, Katharina returned to training, describing her defibrillator as a guardian angel. Six weeks after the procedure, she cleared 4.20 meters at a competition. Less than a year later, she returned to the German Indoor Athletics Championship and won a silver medal.

“I am grateful for every day, every jump and every training. I love that I can follow my passion,” Katharina tells ThisIsMedTech. As she trains to qualify for the next Summer Olympics and become the first Olympia n with a defibrillator to compete, Katharina no longer fears for her heart. “I turned it around,” she explains. “There is no need for fear as long as you feel that fire inside.”