Cardiac arrest at age 22 awakened Jenylyn Carpio to the importance of learning CPR and knowing her family’s history of heart disease.
Jenylyn Carpio was 7 years old when she suddenly fainted — the first of many episodes that doctors couldn’t figure out even after performing electrocardiograms, also known as EKGs.
The mystery deepened after she gave birth to her daughter, Linda Joy, in 2005 at age 22. Although she had a normal pregnancy, the doctors were puzzled that Jenylyn’s heart rate didn’t increase as it should have while giving birth.
Over the next two months, the young wife, mother and student was stressed and fatigued.
“I thought I was getting used to the new role of being a mom, in addition to all the other hats I was wearing,” said Jenylyn, who was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
One day, Jenylyn’s mom offered to watch the baby while she took a nap. The next thing she remembers is her mom performing CPR on her and a police officer flashing a light into her eyes. She had bit her tongue and tasted blood. Her mom told her she’d suffered a cardiac arrest.
“She saved my life,” Jenylyn said.
At the hospital, doctors ran a battery of tests and reviewed her childhood medical records. They also inquired about her family medical history. Her maternal grandfather had died in his 30s from heart disease, but they had little information about the rest of the family.
“I felt vulnerable, extremely confused, shocked and terrified because there was an infant daughter in the picture,” Jenylyn said. “It took me a good 10 years, after the initial episode, and even subsequent device changes, to process it.”
Over the next decade, Jenylyn underwent surgery twice to replace implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) because of battery issues, resulting in pain and questions about her ability to juggle her roles as wife and mother.
Recently, she had a fourth device implanted.
“I felt like I was defective,” she said, noting she didn’t know how to ask for help. “In the Filipino culture, we tend to be rather reserved and private about how much we have on our shoulders.”
Finally, after nearly a decade of bearing the burden on her own, she went to see a counselor, which helped her feel better and learn how to ask for help.
“Baby steps,” she said. “I was building myself to be a better, stronger mom and spouse to my husband.”
Ready to talk about her experiences, Jenylyn reached out to the American Heart Association and became a social media ambassador.
Going public wasn’t easy at first, but her story resonated with people and she developed a support network and has met many of her followers in person.
“I didn’t feel so alone anymore,” she said.
Eager to learn more about their family history, her mother traveled to the Philippines, where she learned that many relatives on her father’s side of the family had high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions.
”Your cultural heritage could increase your risk for cardiovascular disease,” Jenylyn said. “There needs to be more representation and outreach specifically for my community.”
Jenylyn continues to speak about her experience publicly, emphasizing the importance of learning CPR — the technique that saved her life.
She also dresses in a red heart costume as the American Heart Association mascot, Ticker — one of her favorite roles — at local events and health fairs.
“In the beginning, I felt vulnerable,” she said. “But now I’m using heart disease to help strengthen myself and hopefully strengthen others by sharing my story.”