I was thin, fit

Back in 2000, Eve Walker had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

At the time the 28-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, was a size six and active – a modern dancer.

She never even thought she had the remote risk of suffering a heart attack. But she did.

Waking up in hospital, Eve was stunned to hear her diagnosis: she had an enlarged heart that made it difficult for blood to be pumped properly through her body.

Now 43 years old, the mother-of-two is educating women about heart disease and urging them to get checked out before it’s too late.

When Eve Walker, from Detroit, Michigan, was just 28 years old (pictured left, in pink), she suffered a heart attack and discovered she had genetic heart disease. Now 43 (right) she is urging all women to educate themselves about the risk factors that they may not look for

Eve was at work when she first suspected something was wrong. She was climbing up the stairs and was feeling utterly exhausted. 

She first suspected it was the onset of adult asthma and went to get her lungs checked out, but doctors found nothing wrong with them

Although she’d already had her two sons, Maurice and Caleb, which puts a strain on the heart, she had never been warned that it could lead to such a dramatic attack.

Doctors prescribed Eve aspirin and she went to go stay for a few days with her mother, who lived in a one-floor house.

A few days later, she said her legs felt heavy and she started started feeling pain.

She said: ‘I had a mosquito bite type of pinch and it went up my leg, up my side, and I felt in my face.

‘And I went to one of the neighbors and I said, “I think I’m having a heart attack”.’

The neighbor rushed Eve to the hospital where she found out the aspirin she received from the hospital days before had likely prevented her from going into cardiac arrest.

The next day, she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscles to enlarge and the walls of the ventricles to thicken. This thickening prevents blood to flow properly through the body.

It may cause arrhythmias – or an abnormal heart rhythm – or even heart failure. It’s also usually inherited.

The condition that had run in her family for years – but it had never caused a heart attack in her relatives at such a young age. 

Eve said her first thought was, ‘Am I being pranked? I’m 28. This can’t be happening to me.

‘But I really wasn’t expecting it and I was terrified. They told me I would have to take medication likely for the rest of my life, that I would have to likely have to stop dancing.’ 

Cardiologists suggested Eve get an implantable defibrillator – a device that monitors heart rhythms and delivers a shock if it senses dangerous rhythms. She refused.

‘I was like, “I’m 28, are you kidding? I am not getting that”,’ she said.

‘To me, that sounded too much like a pacemaker and I was too young for a pacemaker.’

Eve stopped dancing and doing cardio. She stopped running – anything she feared would give her a rush of adrenaline.

She even stopped having sex for a while as she began to figure out what kinds of physical activity she could still do in moderation.

Eve said she knew her grandmother had suffered a heart attack, but she was in her 90s at the time so nothing was thought of it.

She also said she knew her mother was on medication for hypertension, but what she didn’t know was that her mother had an enlarged heart, just like Eve.

But most shocking of all was the news she learned about her older sister. 

Eve with her children Maurice, 27, (left) and Caleb, 20 (right). In 2015, after she struggled to complete a stress test, her cardiologist recommended implanting a defibrillator

When Eve was 12 years old, her 16-year-old sister Louise unexpectedly passed away. Too grief stricken, her parents never elaborated on the cause of her death.

In 2013, Eve’s doctors asked her if she could obtain a copy of her sister’s death certificate due to her getting genetic testing based on her family history. The cause of death was heart disease – her sister had gone into cardiac arrest.

Flashing forward to 2015, Eve went to a plastic surgeon to see about getting a ‘mommy makeover’.

She told him about her medical history and he told her that she would first need to be cleared by a cardiologist.

At the cardiologist’s, Eve was given a stress test. To pass, you need to be able to last 15 minutes on a treadmill.

Eve said by about a minute-and-a-half in, she felt ready to faint.

Eve’s scar from her implanted defibrillator surgery. The device checks for dangerous heart rhythms and sends a shock if it senses one

The experience, she says, helped her come to terms with how loaded her family history was, as well as her own.

Although she was still nervous about getting a defibrillator, doctors assured her that the devices were much smaller than when first recommended to her over 10 years ago and that she would receive minimal scarring.

Finally convinced, Eve had the device implanted. She said during the first week she experienced unimaginable pain and had to stay in the hospital for more days than originally thought.

But slowly, she began to notice a changed.

‘For years I had insomnia because I thought I might die in my sleep. The defibrillator gave me a sense of security,’ she said. 

‘I had never felt there would be a day that I would be okay. Now, I walk for exercise – for one or two miles – I don’t feel like my heart might suddenly stop.’  

Eve says the whole experience has been a ‘journey’ to figure out the things she can do in moderation. She still takes beta-blockers and aspirin, twice a day.

Additionally, she says she’s educated herself on what her BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar mean in terms of lowering her risk.

In 2013, Eve became involved with the American Heart Association and their Go Red For Women initiative. She’s now a national spokeswoman for the organization, but that wasn’t her intention.

‘I wasn’t trying to be any poster’s child,’ she said.

‘But then I thought about my sister who no longer has a voice and all the women who are afraid to speak, and all the women who take of others but of themselves. And I thought somebody has to speak for them.’

When Eve joined the American Heart Association, she wasn’t interested in becoming a spokeswoman but said: ‘I do it so a mother can go home to her kids, so a woman can live’

Heart disease kills more US women than all cancers combined. One in three women die from heart disease each year.

Eve, who now lives in Los Angeles, goes all over the country speaking about heart disease and urging women to get checked out or to speak with their doctor if they suspect something is wrong. 

She said: ‘Why I do this is simple. I do it so a mother can go home to her kids, so a woman can live.

‘So if sharing my story helps that happen, then I’ll keep sharing it.’