Kimberly Goodloe portraitKimberly Goodloe knew something was wrong the moment the pain began.

“I came out of a class where I was a substitute teacher and grabbed my chest,” she said. “It was the worst feeling.”

The mother of two headed down the hall to the school nurse, who told her she needed to be seen by a doctor. He ordered some tests and determined Kimberly needed her aortic valve replaced.

Kimberly knew this was a possibility. While in her mid-30s and pregnant with her daughter, Kimberly learned she had a heart murmur caused by an abnormal valve. The cardiologist said that valve probably would need to be replaced in her 50s, or maybe not until her 70s.

Now it was time for the replacement, and she was only 42.

“I guess it just ran its course,” Kimberly said.

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Just four days after receiving her new mechanical valve, Kimberly was in trouble again.

A surgeon discovered an irreversible heart blockage.

“He said, ‘We have to move her now. We’ve got to go in now,’” she recalled. “We had no time to plan. It was a matter of hours. I received a pacemaker.

“That’s when my life changed forever,” she said.

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Kimberly left the hospital in a state of denial.

She refused to say she had a mechanical valve because she struggled with the fact her body was held together with parts she wasn’t born with. She also found it difficult to accept that the pacemaker would be a permanent part of her life. And, of course, there were the scars on her chest.

Kimberly Goodloe in DCAs the healing process continued, Kimberly found a way through the low moments, such as the discovery that a lead on her pacemaker had broken, requiring an operation to fix it. Eventually, the good days outweighed the bad. She credits her religious faith for helping her maintain a positive attitude.

“Once I let down that wall (of denial), that huge wall, I was ready to advocate,” she said.

The Lawrenceville, Georgia, woman began volunteering with the American Heart Association in spring 2010, about a year after her first surgery. She speaks at Go Red for Women events and health fairs, and she has shared her story with lawmakers at the state and national level as part of You’re the Cure. In 2013, Kimberly took part in the AHA’s Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., speaking with members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and encouraging the lawmakers to support research funding.

“It was life-changing because I still live with shortness of breath and other symptoms,” she said. “To make that trip from Atlanta and be among 300 advocates, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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Kimberly Goodloe collageOn the 5-year anniversary of her open-heart surgery, Kimberly decided to create a project not only to celebrate her recovery but to raise awareness of heart disease for the families who are suffering.

Thus began the collage of hearts, a collection of handmade hearts from various students, families, churches and organizations special to Kimberly. Of special significance were more than 180 hearts from elementary students at the school where her children went. The huge collage was displayed on the lawn of a park in her hometown.

“This is a treasure that I’m leaving with my children,” she said.

Kimberly is committed to sharing her heart collage and her story of “triumph and healing” with other heart and stroke patients, their families and their caregivers to provide encouragement. She also does this through her blog and by participating in the new American Heart Association Support Network.

Her advice: “Pray daily. Take one day at a time. Focus on your blessings. Don’t suffer in silence, you’re not alone. Develop a relationship with your doctor. Create a support team. Find one reason to smile every day and never give up.”

Kimberly is among the women featured in this video from last year’s Go Red For Women luncheon in Atlanta

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 Photos courtesy of Kimberly Goodloe

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

Firefighter turns tragedy into community event

‘A Stroke of Creativity’

Mother of 8 who collapsed in church warns others: ‘Heart disease doesn’t look like anything’