Mother-of-two, whose heart stopped temporarily after childhood sweetheart left her for her friend, recalls how she nearly died from a broken heart
38-year-old Helen Ross from Canterbury, Kent, was diagnosed with stress-induced cardiomyopathy aka broken heart syndrome, that left her needing a pacemaker for seven years
A mother-of-two from the UK almost died of a "broken heart" after she found out that her partner of seven years and childhood sweetheart left her for her friend. Helen Ross, a 38-year-old from Canterbury, Kent, was diagnosed with stress-induced cardiomyopathy, which is also known as broken heart syndrome, after her former lover told her that he was leaving her. Only days after they broke up, Ross collapsed and her heart reportedly stopped beating temporarily. This left her needing a pacemaker for seven years after that.
The former model, who was only 26 at that time, admitted that she was "inconsolable" when her relationship broke down but flew to Orlando, Florida, where she tried to immerse herself with work to distract her from what happened.
Her trip, however, had to be cut short because she collapsed on the first day of her shoot. Her heart stopped temporarily once again in the hospital after which doctors diagnosed her with stress-induced cardiomyopathy, the Daily Mail reported.
Ross is now the owner of her own business which makes saddle pads for horse riders. She lives with her two sons — six-year-old Hugo and five-year-old Henry from another relationship. She said: "I had never heard of broken heart syndrome before it happened to me. I couldn't believe a break up could affect me physically, to the point where I could have died. I loved him to bits and could have never pictured myself without him after we'd built a life together — we'd only just bought a house. I felt distraught by the breakup, but I didn't realize it had actually broken my heart."
Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is said to be a reaction the heart has to the sudden release of stress hormones. This can be triggered by an emotional imbalance. This also causes the heart to become temporarily enlarged and it will start struggling to pump blood properly.
It can be misdiagnosed, however, like a heart attack because symptoms for the condition as well as test results are very similar but there has been no evidence of arteries becoming blocked. The condition is said to be more common among women and is very common among older people like those who have lost their lifelong spouses.
A study conducted last year suggested that the condition can cause long-lasting damage to the heart by reducing its strength and slowing down pumping motion. Ross said: "I'd only been in Orlando for 24 hours and was feeling physically normal," she explained, "but out of the blue I just collapsed – there were no warning signs." Staff at the photoshoot immediately called paramedics and she was rushed to a nearby hospital where she woke up 30 minutes later.
The doctors were baffled and couldn't explain why a healthy young woman would just collapse suddenly so they kept her overnight. She said she woke up the next morning and found a nurse watching her anxiously.
Ross said: "She asked me how I was feeling and how I had slept, and I told her fine – as far as I was concerned, I'd slept like a baby. She told me my heart had stopped beating while I was asleep – it had flatlined. I was shocked and couldn't believe it had happened while I was asleep, I could easily have died. But weirdly, by the time the doctors had come rushing in with the defibrillator seconds later, my heart had started up again by itself. They called it pot luck."
The doctors then asked her if she experienced any trauma recently which may have brought the heart problem along and when she spoke of her breakup, they diagnosed her with broken heart syndrome.
She explained: 'I told them how hard the break-up had been for me, how devastated I was and they nodded and immediately said it was to blame. I had no idea that this sort of thing could happen, but they explained it isn't entirely uncommon in elderly people who lose their life partner – but it was rare in someone so young."
She added: "They thought it had almost certainly happened to me the day before and was the reason I had collapsed at the photoshoot."
When she went back to the UK, Ross had a pacemaker fitted to regulate her heart. She removed it in 2014 after there were no further complications. Ross studied equine sciences at the University of Lincoln and has since set up HRP Equestrian. She also founded the charity called Hugs4Lungs, which is a 24-hour support line for parents who have children with breathing difficulties.
Ross has had relationships since the ill-fated one 12 years ago and she has vowed that she will never be dependent on a man again. She said: "It taught me to focus on the positives and everything I have going for me, as well as to love myself more. I know now I will never let myself get in that position again."