Mehak Agarwal is a volunteer from Santa Maria, California. She is taking a break from her studies to do intensive physical therapy after receiving her pacemaker and is currently working at Dignity Health’s Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, California. Mehak is using her own heart experience to raise awareness regarding heart disease in young people.

March 3, 2015, marked the day I became a 19-year-old capable of saying, “I have a pacemaker.”

My journey began in November 2014, while I was studying architecture and design at the University of Cincinnati. I was having what I thought was an anxiety attack but also feeling extremely drowsy. I called my family in Los Angeles, who told me to go to the emergency room.

I was moved to the intensive care unit where wires were attached to every part of my body. Thirteen vials of blood were taken from me as I lie in bed with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) stuck to my chest as a precaution. Three doctors, two specialists, five interns and a bevy of nurses tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

The next morning a cardiologist advised me to get a pacemaker. “Why?” I asked. He said I had a heart defect that interfered with the signals that regulated my heart beat, and I should remove the “what if” factor of my heart stopping. Again, I asked, “Why?” This time I meant, “Why me?” He told me I was probably born with this problem. It was one of the angriest, saddest and most frustrating moments of my life.

Four months passed as I sought multiple opinions from various doctors and underwent a multitude of tests. Finally, I decided to undergo surgery to have a pacemaker installed. People who meet me for the first time wouldn’t know I have a pacemaker, let alone that I suffer from minor effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, I came out of this surgery physically improved, but mentally and emotionally the experience did some damage.

I wanted to become an American Heart Association spokesperson so I can encourage people, old and young, to investigate their heart health. I also want them to know that if you discover a problem, thanks in part to research advances made possible by the American Heart Association, treatment and care are often possible.