Kristine Breese thought she was doing everything right to maintain good health. A marathoner and triathlete, Breese also spent additional time running around after two young children and working in a fast-paced public relations job.
She didn't smoke, watched what she ate and tried to exemplify a heart-healthy lifestyle. In fact, she was so fit she never considered the occasional dizzy spell or episode of fainting she experienced as anything important.
After a late night in the office in September 1999, Breese remembers feeling "funny" on her way home from work. She mentioned that feeling to her sister-in-law when she arrived home. That's the last thing she remembers.
Breese stepped into the bathroom to change out of her business suit and ended up on the floor. Her sister-in-law, who'd been babysitting the kids and was about to leave, heard her crash to the floor and immediately called 9-1-1.
"Thank God she took it seriously," Breese said. "I never had."
Initially, doctors in the emergency room thought Breese suffered from a neurological disorder such as epilepsy, but tests ruled that out. Eventually, she was sent to a cardiologist who ordered a tilt table test. The tilt table test is exactly as it sounds. A patient is strapped onto a table, which is then tilted up to 90 degrees to see how the heart reacts to the change in position and the need to pump blood and oxygen up to the brain. Breese passed out and went into cardiac arrest seven minutes into the 45-minute test.
The diagnosis was neurocardiogenic syncope, and Breese was told she needed a pacemaker. In mid-October, the device was installed and set to activate when her heart rate fell below 40 beats per minute.
A pacemaker is a small, battery-operated device that helps the heart beat in a regular rhythm by sending an electrical impulse to the heart. Research funded by the American Heart Association led to the development of the pacemaker.
After two days in the hospital, Breese was sent home. Six weeks later, she was told she could continue all her usual activities with no restrictions. Instead she decided to forego the marathon and triathlon training and concentrate on spending time with her family. She still works out, but not at the level she maintained prior to receiving the pacemaker.
When Breese went in for a check-up to make sure the pacemaker was working, she learned it had fired 48 times during the first six months.
"My lesson was to live a more balanced life," Breese said.
Today, Breese runs her own public relations and writing business and works from home. She is the author of Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts, and Sanity for Moms Battling Illness.
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