Margaret Kilby in hospital after her surgery

Margaret's story of heart attack

Before Margaret Kilby had her first heart attack at 35 years old, she didn’t even realise she was at risk

16 February 2022

“I have always been such a fit and healthy person and I didn’t fit the profile of someone with a heart problem. Although my father died of a heart attack at just 42, I never thought that was something I would also deal with. I thought living a healthy life – eating well and exercising – would be enough and didn’t consider the role genes may play in causing me harm,” she says.

Margaret Kilby had her genes tested after her first heart attack and it was found she had inherited a condition call familial hypercholesterolemia – or FH – a condition which means her cholesterol levels would have been high from birth.

The condition can bring forward a heart attack or stroke by 20 or 30 years.

Her brother Michael also has the “faulty” gene and had a heart attack at 35 as well. Between them, they had seven heart attacks before the age of 50.

After her first heart attack, Margaret went on to survive three more until bypass surgery at the age of 42.

“You start to think that at some point, a heart attack will take me. You start to feel there is no tomorrow.”

Margaret Kilby on a yacht

New heart attack research bringing hope for Margaret

Margaret is excited by new research from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute that has identified the most critical genes that can cause coronary heart disease and trigger heart attacks.

It’s hoped this knowledge will mean more accurate genetic testing for those at risk, as well as open up a whole new field of targeted therapies.

Margaret also hopes that by speaking out about her story it might encourage others to look out for symptoms and get themselves tested.

“Many people don’t want to know whether they have this gene – most of my family for instance, haven’t been tested. There is a lot of uncertainly in knowing but there is also a lot of power in having the information and being able to improve your own health as well as look out for symptoms.

“If this new research leads to improved accuracy of genetic tests, that will also encourage more people to find out whether they are at risk, which is just fantastic.

“But I think regardless of whether someone is genetically predisposed to a condition, they should take their cholesterol readings seriously and act on the results if the number is high.

“I think women in particular often don’t realise they may be at risk of a heart attack and heart disease. It’s often seen as something just unhealthy men are at risk of – I probably thought before my first heart attack.

“I put up with angina for years, not realising that’s what it was. I just explained symptoms away, like pressure on my chest, pain down my left side, neck and jaw, as well as breathlessness, because I was a fit and healthy nonsmoker. But when it’s down to the genes, lifestyle factors don’t really mean that much.

“I just thought I didn’t fit the profile of someone with heart issues. That a heart attack wouldn’t happen to me,” she says.

Margaret’s son did decide to get tested a few years ago – and was relieved to find he didn’t have the gene.

“I got my son tested at 15 at the suggestion of the doctor. We were worried because there is a 50 percent chance that the gene will be carried down - but luckily, he took after his father and didn’t have it so he was very pleased. We were all very pleased!

“I’ll be on medication for life. I also have to look after myself really well with exercise and an extremely good diet. Doctors do say the genes override diet in my case, but I still do try to be really strict with that because if it can help in any way to stop future heart attacks, that can only be a good thing,” she says.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years