A mom claims she nearly died of a broken heart when it stopped beating twice, after she broke up with her childhood sweetheart.
Helen Ross, 38, was devastated when her relationship with her first love fell apart but threw herself into her modeling work.
She went to Florida for a two-week modeling stint for fitness and fashion brands, but her trip was cut short when she collapsed on her first day of a shoot.
Her heart stopped again in hospital and doctors diagnosed her with stress-induced cardiomyopathy, known as "broken heart syndrome."
Medics said her condition was caused by the trauma of the breakup, which is usually only seen in elderly people who lose a life partner.
According to the British Heart Foundation, the condition occurs when the heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened and stops pumping blood to the body as well as it should.
"I had never heard of broken heart syndrome before it happened to me," Ross, of Canterbury, Kent, said. "I couldn't believe a break up could affect me physically, to the point where I could have died."
"I felt distraught by the breakup, but I didn't realize it had actually broken my heart," she said.
Ross, then 26, broke up with her boyfriend of seven years, Andy, in July 2006.
She admits she was "inconsolable" but jetted to Orlando, Florida, for modeling work to take her mind off things.
“I'd given him an ultimatum but he didn't take the final chance," Ross said. “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. It had only been a few days, but my friends and family were telling me to just go – that way I wouldn't be tempted to take Andy back."
“I'd only been in Orlando for 24 hours and was feeling physically normal, but out of the blue I just collapsed – there were no warning signs,” she said.
Staff on the photo shoot called an ambulance and she was rushed to the hospital, where she woke up 30 minutes later.
Doctors were dumbfounded and couldn't explain why a healthy young woman had collapsed seemingly randomly.
“The doctors and nurses were really great, they wired me up and explained I'd have to stay overnight for observation so they could monitor my heart," Ross said.
When she woke up the next morning she noticed a nurse watching her anxiously - and discovered her heart had stopped overnight.
“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 said. "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," she said. “They called it 'pot luck.'"
Doctors asked if she had experienced a recent trauma.
“I told them how hard the breakup had been for me, how devastated I was and they nodded and immediately said it was to blame," she said. “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."
"They thought it had almost certainly happened to me the day before and was the reason I had collapsed at the photo shoot," she said.
Ross was in Florida Hospital East Orlando for three days, where she was monitored and tested and deemed fit enough to make the journey home so she could receive treatment in the UK.
Through her insurance company, she was medevaced back to her home and was immediately taken to hospital for further monitoring.
Ross was fitted with a pacemaker to regulate her heart during her three-day stay at Scunthorpe General Hospital, which she had removed in 2014 after no further complications.
“My dad met me in Scunthorpe and helped me get tenants for the house – I needed a fresh start," Ross said. “I re-enrolled in university to study Equine Sciences at University of Lincoln and focused on rebuilding my life."
Ross vowed never to let herself feel so dependent on a man ever again in an effort to avoid future heartbreak.
“It taught me to focus on the positives and everything I have going for me, as well as to love myself more," Ross said. “I know now I will never let myself get in that position again.”
Ross now lives with her two sons Hugo, 6, and Henry, 5, who she had with a previous partner, after her "first love."
She runs her own business, HRP Equestrian, which makes internationally award-winning horse saddle pads.
She founded children's not-for-profit charitable organization, Hugs4Lungs, in 2014 which runs a 24-hour support line for parents with children that have breathing difficulties.
Ross' son Hugo has suffered with Multiple Airway Malacia, Tracheobronchomalacia and unsafe swallow since birth and was diagnosed aged 2.
A spokesperson for Cardiomyopathy UK, Dr Daniel Hammersley, said: "The condition causes temporary weakening of the heart muscles which results in the pumping function of the heart."
"It can be associated with events that cause intense stress or emotion in some cases. Patients who develop this condition generally experience symptoms of chest pain or breathlessness," he said. "Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases the heart muscle function recovers within a few weeks. It is a rare condition overall. It affects women more than men. Most frequently it affects people in their 50's or 60's, although it has been seen in other age groups.“
Linked to emotional distress, the condition isn't inherited, and the BHF says it affects more women than men.