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By Chase Squires / May 26, 2016

Joining the American Heart Association in a Fight for All of Us

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Samantha Silva has stared down serious heart ailments not once, but twice. Once for her son, a second time for herself.

The thing about heart disease or defect is that it’s invisible. You wouldn’t know she has struggled through a life threatening situation, or two, by looking at Silva, a Transamerica Customer Service representative.

But people like her are everywhere.

It could be anyone. Maybe someone who sits across from you at work.

As Transamerica announces its support and sponsorship of the June 4 American Heart Association Heart Walk in Denver, Silva shared how she was blindsided by heart issues and how the medical advances supported by the Heart Association and others proved to be lifesavers.

When her son, Andre Ès, was a baby, doctors discovered a heart murmur. It isn’t that uncommon for kids, and doctors told her he’d outgrow it. He didn’t.

At 7, Andre Ès’ doctors determined the artery that allows blood into his heart was too narrow. His young heart struggled to pull in enough blood through the bottleneck.

“It’s life threatening,” Silva said. “People die from this. There had just been someone who died on the basketball court when we found out. The doctors told us he needed heart surgery, I said, ‘OK,’ and they asked if I wanted to think about it. I said, ‘What’s to think about. We have to do this.’”

That set off the journey of a lifetime for Andre Ès: open heart surgery, a surgical repair of the artery, and years of slowly healing, getting back to normal. The good news is he’s a healthy 13-year-old who loves playing basketball. The bad news is the artery may need to be adjusted again as he grows.

And while that would be enough for any family, Silva had her own issues. For years, her heart would veer out of control, pounding away at an elevated rate, racing faster and faster for no apparent reason. Doctors told her she was having panic attacks.

“I said, ‘But I’m not panicking,’” she remembered. “I felt fine. Except my heart was racing.”

With no clear answers, Silva went on, struggling with the feeling each time it came on out of the blue. Until one day, when she was 33, friends were with her when her heart went haywire.

“They put their hands on my chest, they could feel my heart pounding and pounding,” and they raced her to a hospital. “My friends were saying ‘Don’t die! Don’t die!’”

Doctors tried everything that should have worked, but nothing did. A cardiologist eventually pinpointed a rare defect known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It’s a “short circuit” in the heart’s electrical pathways that affects only four out of 100,000 people.

To track down the diagnosis, surgeons snaked tiny cables with cameras through Silva’s arteries up to her heart. Still alert and awake, Silva watched as images were displayed on giant video screens in a high-tech setting that would have been impossible without modern advances in medicine.

She’s still not out of the woods. She wears a heart monitor that beams diagnostic data to her doctors over the airwaves. No answers yet, two years after her surgeries, but she’s hopeful.

Silva is organizing her Transamerica teammates to participate in the Heart Walk and explain how critical heart research is. For Silva and her son, advances in heart care have been life savers.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but people like Silva, with their own stories of heart disease and defects, are all around you.

The American Heart Association Denver Heart & Stroke Walk is at 7:30 a.m., June 4 at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 1345 Champa Street. Transamerica’s company page is online.

Transamerica is not affiliated with the American Heart Association.

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