[Did you know?]

The American Heart Association recommends that regular cardiovascular screening tests begin at age 20.

When I was 15 years old, I started passing out, and doctors always blamed it on hypoglycemia or stress. It wasn’t until years later, after almost passing out while driving my kids home from school, that I finally determined to find further answers.

During a cardiac function test, my heart stopped for 22 seconds. I woke to my doctor standing over me and saying,Angelina, you need a pacemaker. It turned out that I had a condition called neurocardiogenic syncope. My brain would signal my heart rate to drop, and low blood pressure would make me faint. My pacemaker fixed that.

In August 2010, I was at work and a member, Amy Chatman, asked if she could speak to me. She had come in for some groceries and the cashier, a friend of hers, sent her to find me. Lately, she had been fainting and was always out of breath. Her regular doctor did an electrocardiogram (EKG), which showed something wasnt right. She went to a cardiologist, who wanted to put in a pacemaker immediately. But Amy, who was only 39, thought she was too young to need one.

Amy and I talked for a while. I told her about how my husband and I had satin the hospital room bawling our eyes out when we got the news that I needed a pacemaker. But while it was a scary experience, I explained that getting my pacemaker had given me peace of mind and helped me live a fuller, healthier life. By the end of our conversation, she was ready to get her pacemaker, too.

Amy had the surgery within a week. During the procedure, the surgeon found that the top half of her heart had stopped working, and the bottom half wasnt far behind. Afterward, her doctor explained that if she hadn’t had the surgery, she probably would have died from heart failure within six months.

Now, Amy has a great quality of life. She feels better and can do anything she wants to do. When I see her at the club, she says, Youre my angel, so its perfect that your name is Angelina. I’m so thankful to have been able to help her. If I can save one life by telling my story, its worth having gone through the procedure.