Kim Quinn had lived in Jefferson City since she was 13.
The city became her home. Quinn, who shared her survivor story during Friday's second annual American Heart Association Go Red for Women Luncheon, went away to college then returned and married a Jefferson City man.
As far as she knew, she was healthy and fine — until she became pregnant with their first child.
"I started experiencing heart flutters," Quinn said. "It would skip a beat."
Doctors determined she had microvalve prolapse, meaning a valve in her heart wasn't closing properly and blood was seeping around it, she said.
"When you're pregnant, your blood volume doubles," she said. "My heart wasn't handling it that well."
The couple wanted to have a second child. Her cardiologist said she probably could, but she shouldn't consider more than that.
Upon getting pregnant with their second child, Quinn immediately had more serious problems, she said. She began having sick sinus syndrome, an uncommon heart rhythm disorder that indicates the heart's natural pacemaker — the sinus node — isn't functioning properly.
"I just know that I felt really bad really quick," she said. "My heart was acting like I wasn't taking my medicine. It was like the first pregnancy times four."
She cut back on activity, including work. Then doctors told her they thought she would have a heart attack during the baby's delivery.
When it came time for delivery, she was rushed in for emergency cesarean section. The room was packed with specialists in case they were needed, she said.
The delivery went well but had an impact on her. Quinn ended up having congestive heart failure. Her heart would jump from about 30 beats a minute to 200. About nine months after the second delivery, she had to have a pacemaker placed in her chest to stabilize her heartbeat.
The first pacemaker lasted about nine years. She is on her second.
Quinn said she didn't think she was worthy of being an American Heart Association survivor. But the AHA said there are many heart issues, and she was nominated by her doctor because she survives.
"I'm functioning and have a somewhat normal lifestyle," she said.
It's embarrassing to tell the story, she said. But it's necessary so more people have information about heart conditions.
The same condition has passed to Quinn's adult daughter.
"She had to come home to be closer to her cardiologist because her heart was racing so much," Quinn said. "Coming home after two years of college was not her plan, but we're thrilled to have her home so we can get her healthier and on her feet."
About 450 people attended Friday's luncheon at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, the cornerstone of a campaign that promotes healthy lifestyles, builds awareness and raises funds that support research and education concerning heart disease and stroke.
Go Red for Women provides a platform for women and their families to lead healthier lives. It provides women with opportunities to prioritize and take charge of their own health; builds communities that support and provide access to healthy choices; demands equal access to health care for all women and their families; and increases women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Also empowering women was keynote speaker Gail Carlock, founder of Heartwork Inspires, an executive coaching and leadership consulting firm based in the Lake of the Ozarks area.
Carlock, whose clients include St. Jude Medical, Abbot, American Heart Association, Heart to Heart, Missouri Vein Associates and the Community Foundation of the Lake, said she wanted to take the time to "just infuse some joy into you guys."
"Building the best 'you,'" she said, "is about taking the time today to fill you up. So you can go back out into the community today and not only give but serve the people around you."
She started off by asking for a show of hands on how many in the group thought they could do one thing over the next two weeks to make their lives better.
Then she asked how many thought they could do one thing to make their lives worse, to which most hands went up.
"The important thing is you have realized you have the power. You have the power to choose to make your life better or to make your life worse," Carlock told listeners.
Ultimately, the choice is yours, she said.
"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to take the time to start to be great," she said.
People miss out on the opportunities life has for them because they don't take the steps they need to take today to make them better, she said.
It's what we have on the inside and that we bring to others that make us the people we are, she continued.
"It's not what you do; it's who you are," she said. "It's how you bring yourself to your environment every day, whether you're a stay-at-home mother, if you work at this facility, if you're a banker or if you're a CEO."
Recognizing their potential was the No. 1 thing the listeners could take from Tuesday's luncheon, Carlock said.
"Understand who you are, and what value you bring to your world," Carlock encouraged.
She told them to leave the "PLOM disease" (Poor Little Old Me) behind.
That is something Quinn has done.
Quinn said she has had two instances in which she began to go into congestive heart failure and medications and pacemakers wouldn't help. Medication changes and exercise have helped. Female staff at the cardiac rehabilitation unit she uses are her little cheerleading team, she said. They call her by name and encourage her to do things she otherwise wouldn't — like exercise.
"I think for me and people like me that we all think there's nothing wrong with us," Quinn said. "You wonder what you did wrong. It may not be that you did anything wrong — it's just there."