Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.
Nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented.
Hi! My name is Jess Esposito and I created this team and fundraiser to help raise awareness for heart disease and conduction disorders.
A Quick Background on Conduction Disorders:
Conduction is how electrical impulses travel through your heart, which causes it to beat. Some conduction disorders can cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.
One conduction disorder, heart block, is one that has personally affected me since birth (more on that story soon). In cases of heart block, the electrical signals that progress from the heart’s upper chambers (atria) to its lower chambers (ventricles) are impaired. When those signals don’t transmit properly, the heart beats irregularly. Heart blocks can often be linked to bradycardia (i.e. an abnormally slow heart rate that increases risk of cardiac arrest and heart failure). There are three-degrees of heart blocks: First-degree, second-degree, and third-degree (also known as complete heart block). Once a heart block has reached or neared third-degree, an individual likely needs to have pacemaker implantation surgery.
I was a preemie born via an emergency c-section at Yale Hospital. Unfortunately, while my mother was pregnant with me, an autoimmune disease called Lupus became active inside her body. This resulted in an "attack" on my developing body, and unfortunately, this disease interfered with my heart. In return, I was born with a congenital heart block, a slight heart murmur and a small hole in my heart.
Thankfully, I was one of the "better" patients that my pediatric cardiologist worked with and I was able to get through my entire childhood and teen years without requiring a pacemaker. I had what I believe to be a first-degree block and my heart rate was always low (bradycardia). I was asymptomatic throughout my childhood with the exception of frequent shortness-of-breath episodes. That said, it was definitely not without constant struggle, frustration and embarrassment. I wore a holter monitor once a year for 24hr+, which doesn't sound too terrible, but back in the yearly 90s, these monitors were large and bulky, the wires long and stiff and unable to be hidden - an embarrassing thing to have to explain to the healthy school kids around you. I was never able to run a mile straight through because I would lose my breath and nothing is more embarrassing than being the last to finish a run in gym class... especially when you loved sports. Thankfully, it never inhibited me from pushing myself to play sports. I played basketball throughout middle school and volleyball for a year in high school. I was a very active kid - I rode my bike every chance that I could, hiked in the woods, skateboarded, in-line skated, swam and of course, played basketball and volleyball.
Once I turned 16(ish?), my pediatric cardiologist sent me on my way to an adult cardiologist, Dr. Landsman. I was very uneasy about switching doctors, especially because I never trusted or allowed any other male doctor near me growing up, except for Dr. Snyder (my pediatric cardiologist). Dr. Landsman quickly reminded me of Dr. Snyder and I was no longer concerned about the switch. Unfortunately, a year later - Dr. Landsman passed from cancer and I was automatically switched to another doctor in the office for my yearly checkup. This man ended up making some of my biggest fear become reality. He made me uneasy and uncomfortable during my visit and I never went back again.
Fast forward a few years later...
I am 20 years old. My dad passed away a year before from his 3rd heart attack. I was in an incredibly low spot in my life and something didn't feel right (mentally, not physically). I asked one of my friends at the time to drive me to the ER. He made me feel like I was ridiculous for this request, but thankfully he drove me anyway. The hospital kept me overnight and monitored my heart while I was sleeping. In the few years since I left that creepy cardiologist's office and never looked back, my heart condition had progressed. I woke up that next morning to a visit from the hospital cardiologist. My heart block had progressed from a first-degree heart block, to a third-degree/complete heart block. While I was sleeping, my heart was stopping periodically and my resting heart-rate was in the 40s. I was set up immediately for surgery to have a dual-lead pacemaker implanted. I had never had surgery before. I was scared and uneasy. My life changed forever that day and it took me a long time to adjust to the fact that I will never be a normal, healthy, young-adult.
I look back on that day quite often because I realize how LUCKY I am. Had I not asked my friend to drive me to the hospital that night, I would never have known how bad my heart block had gotten and my life would have very likely been cut short. I am thankful for modern technology and the ability to live a somewhat normal life considering my heart conditions.
The main lesson I learned from all of this is to NEVER avoid going to get annual checkups, especially when it is with a specialist. If you have a bad experience with a doctor, don't let that inhibit you from trying to find a new one. Not every male doctor is a creep - I just got unlucky that one time. (The cardiologist that did my emergency surgery has been my regular cardiologist since and he is AMAZING). Your health is the most important thing in your life, literally.
Not every disease, disorder or condition is VISIBLE. It took me a long time to get comfortable about my pacemaker and discuss my heart condition with my employers and many friends, especially in the field I am in. But at the end of the day, if you educate and spread awareness, it becomes easier to share your experience and potentially prevent the death or decrease severe heart health risks of another person, young or old.
I tried to keep my story as short and sweet as possible, but I realize it may have taken some time to get through it, so thank you for reading. I hope that I have taught you something new and instilled the importance of keeping up with your health and scheduling regular checkups.
Please consider joining my team and donating to this cause to help spread more awareness and increase funding for medical research and technology to prevent and treat conduction disorders and many other forms of heart disease.
Please also consider joining my AHA Heart Walk team. We will be walking this year at the 2020 Southern Illinois Heart Walk.
Date & Time: October 10, 2020
Walker Bluff - The Depot
326 Vermont Rd.
Carterville, IL 62918
Link to my AHA Heart Walk Team:
or search team "Wired For Life"