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Young swimmer survives mysterious cardiac arrest

UM Senior Heidi Stewart limits physical activity to manage rare, genetic heart defect.?

MISSOULA, Mont. - Friday is National Wear Red Day, raising awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women.

University of Montana senior Heidi Stewart grew up as a competitive swimmer, but a rare and genetic heart disorder now makes her limit physical activity.

"When I was 16 or 17 I started passing out after swim races. We finally sought out a specialist and he diagnosed me with anxiety," said Stewart.

Then Stewart collapsed at her high school.

"I went into cardiac arrest and was dead for 10 minutes," Stewart said.

Doctors then gave Stewart her correct diagnosis of an inherited disorder that creates scar tissue in her heart.

Heredity is one of the messages the Missoula Go Red for Women Luncheon tries to teach every February.

"If you have a family history of heart disease from your mother, father, grandparent, siblings, you need to let your physician know," said Kimberly Roth, Missoula Go Red for Women chairwoman.

Go Red also teaches that women's symptoms are different than men's.

"Don't dismiss that you start to maybe breathe a little heavier as you are going up stairs. Don't say, 'Well, I'm just getting older, or I need to work out harder,'" said Roth.

As for Stewart, a defibrillator has saved her life three times, but with excruciating pain each time.

"It's been hard, really hard, especially being my age and having to try and figure out life with this, but it's a beautiful fight because my story influences people all the time," said Stewart.

Stewart is well aware that fight will impact people she meets for the rest of her life.

The Missoula Go Red for Women Luncheon begins at 10:30 on Friday, Feb. 17 at the Doubletree Hotel.

Organizers say this is the 11th year for the luncheon, and they expect at least 300 women to attend.

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