Cathy McArthur was born in Laos (Southeast Asia) and immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. She first lived in a tiny 400-square. ft. home donated to her family by the First Presbyterian Church in Monticello, Illinois. Her FOB (fresh-off-the-boat) moment was when she wore pajamas to school—footed ones and all. Cathy is a marketing and communications consultant by background but is passionate about being a passion personal finance coach. She is also an active community volunteer; she serves as Vice President for three organizations: Champaign PTA Council the Lao Community of Champaign County and Barkstall Elementary PTA. She resides in Savoy with her husband, Jason, and their three children: Samuel (7), Samara (5) and Samson (3). The McArthur family will be participating in the East Central Illinois Heart Walk, as Jason is a heart warrior who has had two major surgeries on his heart.
See why we think Cathy McArthur is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: You have been through so much with Jason due to his heart. What does the heart walk mean to the two of you and your families?
Jason has always been very active, athletic and healthy, so finding out that he had a congenital heart defect at age 27 was a complete shock to us. He was born with a bicuspid instead of a tricuspid valve, so half of all the blood that his heart pumped out was leaking back in, causing enlargement. Left undetected, he would have suffered sudden cardiac arrest without any symptoms. We really thought that the first surgery to replace his valve with a human cadaver one 11 years ago (a week after we got married!) would take care of the problem, but the valve became calcified and weak. We’re hoping the mechanical valve that Dr. Scott Cook implanted this past April will last for several decades.
Getting involved with the American Heart Association and participating in the Heart Walk of East Central Illinois was a prime opportunity for us to increase awareness in the community about heart disease. Many people have the misconception that heart disease only affects those with obesity and sedentary lifestyles, and it’s simply not true. Here are three shocking statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:
1) Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
2) About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
3) Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year in health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Q: How is Jason’s health these days and how has he adjusted to his new “life” after the second surgery?
In July, Jason completed three months of post-op cardiac rehabilitation which consisted of working out under closely-monitored conditions at Carle Hospital. He has never felt better and has few, if any, physical limitations (other than activities which would put him at risk of bleeding since he is now permanently on blood thinner). He was eager to run his first 5K with me on the 4th of July, but was disappointed to find out that running for too long would cause unnecessary jarring of his mechanical valve so his surgeon advised against it.
Q: What role have you played getting him through these traumas?
We joined First Christian Church two years ago (Jason was Catholic and I was Buddhist). Pastor Jones baptized us together a few months before Jason had surgery. I would like to think that going on this spiritual journey with Jason really impacted his ability to mentally prepare for surgery and recover in record time. There was just an indescribable sense of comfort in knowing that God was watching over our family.
I also tried my best to keep our friends, family and co-workers updated on social media. I would read Facebook comments to him at the hospital, and he was really overwhelmed and encouraged by the outpouring of support from hundreds of people. We couldn’t have gotten through it without the help of our friends and family, many of whom simply brought us meals and shared kind words.
Q: How do you advocate for education and awareness of heart disease — even when people our age may not be thinking “it could happen to them”?
Our bodies have the capacity to be incredibly strong and resilient machines, but I think we underestimate how delicate they are at the same time. Earlier this year, my uncle suffered multi-organ failure at his home. As the team of firemen and paramedics worked on him, I tried comforting my aunt who was in a state of shock from seeing his unresponsiveness. Suddenly, she went into cardiac arrest and collapsed in my arms. They were never able to revive her, and they both passed away within half an hour of each other—they were only 64 and 61 years old. My aunt did not have any notable health conditions, so this could happen to anyone. While tragic, another takeaway for me was also the importance of knowing CPR. Even just knowing “hands only CPR” can save someone’s life.
Q: How did this latest experience with Jason’s health affect your children, and how did they adjust?
Our children are really young, so it was difficult for them to understand what was happening. For them, daddy has always been strong and active (he takes them down to the park almost every single day during the summer), so it was hard for them to see him so incapacitated. For several weeks after he got home from the hospital, he wasn’t able to hold them, wrestle around on the floor or throw them in the air like he usually does. However, they enjoyed turning the tables and caring for him.
Q: Your grandmother lives in your home. Few children in this day and age live in a multigenerational household – what do you think they are learning by having this experience?
Frankly, I think it helps them understand the cycle of life and the importance of caring for others in every sense of the term. My mother also lived with us for a year while she battled lung cancer and passed away in 2010. Having my 93 year-old grandmother live with us also helps them understand that our memory, senses and physical abilities begin to deteriorate as we age. They think it’s hilarious that my grandma often mistakes them for the family dog (we do not even have one) when they are crawling around. Samson is also tickled that he and his great-grandma both get to wear pull-ups.
Q: What is your favorite thing about raising children in the Champaign-Urbana area?
One of my biggest parenting goals is to give my children a breadth of experiences rather than “things.” I love that our community makes that so easy. On any given day, I have a plethora of experiences I can share with them, all within a few minutes’ drive. Our community is so rich in art & culture, even outside of the University—we really are blessed. (Oh, and a cup of vanilla custard from Jarling’s might just be the gem of it all.)
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