Three times in three months during 2012, Zach Thompson needed the defibrillator he wears to shock his heart back into a regular rhythm.
Nearly six years ago, Thompson, 28, was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, or ARVC.
As a result of the heart condition, the New Albany resident carries the defibrillator just under his skin above his heart. The device is connected to his heart’s right ventricle with a cord.
Thompson will be recognized as a Heart Walk Hero during the American Heart Association’s Central Ohio Heart Walk at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at McFerson Commons Park, 218 West St. in Columbus.
More than 30,000 people are expected to participate in the downtown Columbus walk, said Brenda Houston, executive director of the American Heart Association-Central Ohio, and the event is expected to raise more than $2 million.
Participants can register at www2.heart.org.
“Funds raised by the American Heart Association are used to support research and breakthroughs that help save and improve lives. We are currently funding more than $4.4 million in active research here in central Ohio,” she said.
Because about 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable through lifestyle changes, the event is one way to help people be active and take steps toward a better lifestyle, Houston said.
Thompson said his ARVC diagnosis woke him mentally, leaving him struggling with his personal identity, which until that time had been tied to athletics and physical activity.
Growing up in Marshalltown, Iowa, Thompson was a high school baseball and football player. At Ashland University, he played baseball and eventually pursued a master’s degree in applied exercise science.
He most recently was a strength-and-conditioning coach at the Wellington School in Upper Arlington.
But living with ARVC, he said, made him realize that his biggest passion is teaching people how to live healthy lives.
“Essentially, I want to help people find their heartbeat,” he said.
In January, Thompson launched Heartbeat Strength, a business giving him the opportunity to teach people how to live physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually rewarding lives. He has 25 clients, most of whom are online.
A disease of the heart muscle, ARVC isn’t curable, according to the British Heart Foundation. The condition can cause abnormal heart rhythms caused by damaged and scarred muscle cells.
ARVC also is genetic. In Thompson’s case, his mother, Judy’s, heart issues led him to get tested to find he carried the ARVC gene.
Even though he had experienced nausea, a racing heart and lightheadedness in high school and college, Thompson said, he attributed the symptoms to fatigue, dehydration or athletic exertion.
“I never thought that there was something wrong with me,” he said.
In December 2012, Thompson received surgery to install the defibrillator.
After Thompson received the defibrillator, he began testing his physical ability, he said. The first time he had an episode with his heart, he was jumping rope. The second time he was lifting weights. The third time he was running.
All three times, Thompson said, he wasn’t aware he was having an episode until he heard the defibrillator charging up.
“It feels like I’m getting struck by lightning,” he said.
Now, Thompson said, he can recognize when his heart gets out of rhythm, and he will stop whatever physical activity he is doing and breathe deeply until his heartbeat returns to a normal rate.
He said his education in exercise science helps him track repetitions, sets and intensities of his workouts, and he avoids overtaxing his body while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.