Heart Month: Heart block wasn't a barrier for Miss World America Washington

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The dance of life is a delicate one, especially for people who have had to navigate around a heart condition.

For Shree Saini, Miss World America Washington, a major blockage wasn't going to get in the way of moving to the beat of her own heart, "A normal heart rate is 60 to 70 beats per minute, while sometimes my heart would not - would only beat 20 beats per minute."

A slow heart rate didn’t slow Shree down despite the 25-year-old pageant queen’s complete heart block going undiagnosed for half of her life.

"My upper and bottom chambers of my heart were not communicating with each other… The only way to fix that blockage would be with a pacemaker which is a machine right here." Shree pointed to her chest as she explained her situation. She says at just 12 years old, she felt tired a lot and more fatigued than her classmates.   

She says, "It was my normal. Sometimes I would feel dizzy but I would just think, ‘Oh, I am just dehydrated.'"

Dr. Jack Salerno studies heart rhythm at Seattle Children’s Hospital and he says when it comes to heart blockages, there are still a lot more questions than answers, "We don’t really know why heart block happens, and that’s where those kids just show up in clinic with a slow heart rate because they went to the pediatrician's office."

Shree got her first pacemaker at just 12 years old and was told she would not lead a normal physical life.  Der dreams of dancing again seemingly fluttering away, "…my life had completely stopped at that point."

So, Shree leaned on her support system, she remembers what her parents told her, "They said don’t let this condition define you. You define your life." 

Her family and friends encouraged her, pushing her to keep going, to keep dancing, "I didn’t want to be at the sidelines for the rest of my life."  

She did one better! She took her dance to the big stage, competing for the title of Miss World America and taking the crown for our state, sharing a message that is near and dear to her heart…  "I want to just inspire them that they’re the ones in control of their life and their choices will make their life, not their circumstances."  

While the idea of a heart blockage in your child is one that may be dismissed, Shree hopes you won't ignore these signs and symptoms, "There’s a series of symptoms… one of them includes shortness of breath, which I felt in P.E."

Dr. Salerno says, "Oftentimes these kids will have exercise intolerance because their heart rate just can’t accelerate like a normal kid will."

While nothing can be done to prevent a heart blockage, Shree says she is mindful of what she eats and makes sure she is getting regular exercise, dancing her way to heart health, "Just find joy in day to day life and taking care of yourself because when you take care of yourself then only are you able to take care of your family… So fill your cup up first."

She will compete for the title of Miss World America sometime this year. The date is still undetermined because of the pandemic.

During heart month, we focus on women's heart health because women often assume caregiving roles and their own care can go by the wayside... Signs and symptoms of heart disease are overlooked or ignored.

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