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In February 1994, I swam the fastest time of my life. In March 1994, I went downhill skiing at over 12,000 feet. In April 1994, I clung to life in an emergency room.
Despite having a seemingly healthy body and no family history of heart disease, I had severe idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn't work as well as it should. So doctors implanted a defibrillator to control my irregular heart beat.
Then, in 2002, my heart’s right ventricle had grown large, spreading the weakened tissue into my left ventricle. I was placed on a transplant list, but not willing to give up on my heart, I removed myself and drastically changed my lifestyle.
In February 2005, my new heart found me. Now, when I awake each day with my new, strong beat inside, the first thing I do is say, “Thank you, New Heart, I’m glad you’re here.”
At the age of 30 I suffered a stroke possibly due to a congenital heart defect I was unaware of; there are theories as to the cause but no definitive answer. Youth and stroke are not typically associated with each other by the average person, including me. I quickly discovered that stroke does not discriminate. I’ve had my heart repaired through a procedure that would have required open heart surgery if not for the current research and advances in medical technology. A titanium disc now sits between the chambers of my heart. Without the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and the support of companies and individuals like you, this procedure would not have been possible. Through your financial contributions, we can fund the research and education that save the lives of people like me. With your support, we can discover why young people have strokes and hopefully one day determine how to prevent them from ever occurring.
I began having symptoms when I was only 16: when I laughed a certain way, my heart would start racing to almost 200 beats per minute. I went to the emergency room six times in two years before I was diagnosed with paroxysmal superventricular tachycardia. At age 19, when medication couldn't control the arrhythmic episodes, I underwent successful heart surgery and have been arrhythmia-free ever since. As a result of my own personal experience--and knowing my family's history of heart disease--I know how important it is to live a heart healthy lifestyle. I make sure to exercise regularly, eat right, and have annual conversations with my doctor about my health.
I should have known better. In fact, I did, but I was a hypocrite.
People ask me, 'Did you have lap-band surgery?'" I just smile and tell them the truth - all I do is eat right and exercise for my health.