Kaleido Star- Ken’s Weak Heart
Kaleido Star is an anime original story by GONZO from the early 2000s (April 2003 to March 2004) that was later dubbed and brought to the states by Funimation. It is an interesting show that is a mix of sports anime meets performing arts, meets the circus. I’ll write a full review about the show later on, but the reason I am talking about it today is due to one of the side characters, Ken Robbins.
We first meet Ken in the first episode where he introduces himself as part of the stage crew working behind the scenes at the Kaleido Stage. What drew me to write about Ken today was that we learn he originally tried to join the Kaleido Stage as a performer, but was unable to perform due to having a weak heart. A weak heart can mean many things, so what could be the cause in an active teenage boy with no apparent medical issues?
Congenital Heart Defects
The first thought that some of you might have is probably going to be “Well, he was probably born with it,” and you would be correct. A congenital disorder/defect is a fancy way of saying birth defect. A birth defect is a condition that is present in the child before the child is born, and so he is subsequently born with it. A congenital heart defect is a heart defect that the child is born with. These can be the result of a genetic disorder, an illness the mother contracts during the pregnancy, or chemicals the mother is exposed to during pregnancy, including drugs. There are far too many defects to even begin to postulate on what, if any, congenital defect Ken may or may not have.
“But if he was born with it, wouldn’t he have known ahead of time that his heart couldn’t handle being a Kaleido Stage performer?” That is an excellent question, and the answer is not necessarily, because there are some congenital heart defects that can be asymptomatic or silent, meaning that it is not causing the individual any problems. These conditions only cause problems in certain situations such as vigorous exercise. One such example of this is Marfan’s syndrome, which, while not directly related to the heart, causes a weakened aorta which can lead to sudden death if it ruptures, which is what caused the death of US Olympic volleyball star Flo Hyman in 1986 So it is entirely possible Ken had no idea he had a heart defect until he tried out for the stage.
Another possible culprit for Ken’s weak heart is an illness. There are bacteria and viruses that can eventually damage the muscle of the heart, like a viral myocarditis. If Ken contracted such an illness as a young child it would leave his heart functional, but weaker than other people his age. Again, it is possible that he did not discover the extent of the damage until he tried out, or he could have contracted the illness during his tryout and was unable to fully recover, leaving him to take his current position as a stage hand.
There are also a number of drugs, toxins, and pollutants that can have a negative effect on the heart. There are actually far too many to count and I wouldn’t even know where to begin. While it is not likely in Ken’s case, there is a class of chemotherapy drugs called Anthracyclines that can cause heart damage. This class of drugs is used to treat the following cancers: leukemia, lymphoma, breast, stomach, uterine, ovarian, bladder cancer, and lung cancer. Some of these cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, are common in children, so it is possible that Ken is a survivor of childhood cancer and the chemotherapy drugs damaged his heart.
There is an equally long list of environmental toxins that can damage the heart, and it is something that I have seen and had to deal with first hand.
That is not fog or low-lying clouds you are seeing in the distance, but pollution. As you may or may not know, I spent three years teaching in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This is a picture from the Bogd Khan Uul Park at the outskirts of the city looking towards center city. I worked in the Zaisan area which is around the hill with the monument on it, which typically is not as bad as other parts of the city, but not that bad is still terrible when you are talking about one of the top ten polluted urban areas in the world. This is a result of burning coal and other substances during the winter to stay warm since it can go as low as -50 Farenheit. (That was not a fun day to have a field trip.) Now I personally don’t think this would be the cause of Ken’s weak heart because we can pretty much assume that the Kaleido Stage is located either in Hawaii or somewhere on the western coast of the USA, probably southern California, and these areas do not currently have air pollution problems this severe.
Exposure to environmental toxins is not limited to air pollution, and I know that Ken does not work at an industrial site, but there is still one final way for Ken to be exposed to damaging chemicals. Towards the end of the first season after Yuri buys out the Kaleido Stage, Sora and her friends spend a few days staying with Ken at his family’s house. It is here that we see a rather elaborate outdoor wooden playset that was built by Ken’s father.
Wood will rot over time as it is exposed to the elements, shortening its useful lifespan, but it can be treated with chemicals to help reduce its degradation and make it last longer. If you haven’t guessed it already, I am talking about pressure treated lumber. The idea and process of treating and preserving wood dates back centuries. The Romans used tar to help waterproof the wood used on ships, while the ancient Greeks used olive oil, and the railroad industry used a mix of chemicals called creosote to make longer lasting wooden railroad ties. More modern methods have included the use of heavy metals. Heavy metals are metals that can be toxic in people, and include arsenic and chromium, which have been used in pressure treated lumber.
Now you might be thinking who in their right mind would use wood that has been preserved with toxic chemicals, and you’re not alone in that. However, when the treatment process is done correctly, and the wood is handled properly, there is little risk. So this type of pressure treated lumber was used for years in outdoor applications like children’s playsets. The risk of pressure treated lumber comes when it is cut, as the sawdust could contain the toxic chemicals and any food spilled on the wood is at risk of being contaminated. This ultimately led to US companies’ switching to a safer copper-based preservative. There was also a bit of a scandal involving improperly treated lumber from China that contained high levels of the treatment chemicals, beyond what is considered safe. So it is possible that Ken was accidentally exposed to heart damaging chemicals from the playset his dad made for him as a child.
Sadly, I cannot give you a definitive answer on what caused Ken’s weak heart as each scenario is entirely possible. However, given that he likely did not know about his weak heart until he tried out for the Kaleido Stage, I would put money on its being some sort of asymptomatic congenital defect.