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Valarie Thompson

Valarie Thompson To Speak at ‘Strong Women, Strong Hearts’ Luncheon June 14

By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., June 2, 2010

Winnipeg’s Valarie Thompson  is speaking out for women and heart disease at The Investors Group Heart Truth ‘Strong Women, Strong Hearts’ Luncheon on June 14, 2010 in Winnipeg.

For most of her childhood and into adulthood, Thompson lived in fear of blacking out and collapsing at any moment. It took her over 30 years to find out that she had a life-threatening heart condition.

Heart disease and stroke is the leading cause of death among Canadian women. In fact, one in three will die from cardiovascular disease.

Thompson’s first incident of fainting occurred when she was just a child. The frequency of incidents gradually increased to about once or twice a year throughout her 20’s. She would start to feel light headed and then black out. Her heart would also occasionally race, leaving her with a feeling of tightness in her neck and chest.

By time she was in her mid-thirties, her fainting spells escalated to once or twice a month. She was told that the cause was likely stress.

It wasn’t until Thompson went on a trip to Toronto with her husband to celebrate her 39th birthday that she discovered what was really wrong.

“We had just arrived in the hotel room when I fainted twice, one after another. When my husband couldn’t revive me the second time he called 9-1-1 and the EMS rushed me to hospital,” said Thompson.

It was at Mount Sinai Hospital where Thompson was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) and was told she had a heart arrhythmia; an electrical abnormality in the sinus node (also called sinoatrial or SA node). This condition would cause her sinus node to misfire and tell her heart to suddenly and chaotically beat really fast or really slow. This inappropriate sinus rhythm combined with extremely low blood pressure is what caused Thompson to suddenly pass out or faint. Each time she fainted her heart was actually stopping.

At that time, all they could do for her was provide her with an implantable artificial pacemaker to regulate her heart rate and rhythm.

“I was no longer fainting, but my heart would still race and I was told I had an increased risk of stroke,” she said.

Thompson endured multiple cardiac ablation surgeries in an attempt to correct the rapid irregular rhythms before undergoing successful experimental surgery on her sinus node at the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Health Institute.

“Fortunately I was cured, which is why I think it is so important that more money is raised for heart disease and stroke research, so more people can get the best medical care possible. But I also think awareness is just as important,” she said.

 “It is important to listen to your body and ask for tests when you feel that something is wrong. A woman knows when it isn’t stress or hormones. Inherently, she just knows when something isn’t right with her body – with her heart.”

Today, with no family history of heart disease, Thompson still doesn’t know what caused her arrhythmia. She looks back on her experience like it was all just a bad dream. The 49 year old mother of three wants other women to learn from her experience.

“I am so grateful to the doctor who gave me and my family our lives back. I play tennis four times a week and exercise three times a week.”
For more information on heart arrhythmia and its symptoms or on the Investors Group Heart Truth ‘Strong Women, Strong Hearts’ Luncheon, visit

Rhonda Prepes is an engineer, educator, mother and writer in Winnipeg.

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