By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Ty'Meisha SloanTy’Meisha Sloan is much like many 11-year-old girls.

She loves singing, dancing, playing softball and spending time with friends and family in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I’m pretty much going all day,” she said.

But Ty’Meisha has one important difference from her peers. She has a pacemaker.

She’s even unique among pacemaker recipients: She got her first one when she was five days old.

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Tim and LaTonya Sloan were 15 years into their marriage when they learned a baby was on the way.

Midway through the pregnancy, doctors discovered their unborn daughter’s condition. Simply put, her heart beat too slowly.

As devastating as the news was at that time, it helped brace them for the operation during her first week.

“We were worried she wouldn’t be able to have a normal life,” Tim said. “But doctors assured us that she would be OK.”

The condition took a toll on her development. She weighed 4 pounds, 8 ounces when she arrived Jan. 7, 2004.

About six months later, Ty’Meisha wasn’t eating as much as she had been. She also seemed weaker.

“We just knew in our gut something was wrong,” Tim said.

It was her pacemaker.

Ty’Meisha received a second pacemaker at 9 months. She also needed a feeding tube to help her gain weight and several medications to help her heart recover.

Twenty days later, tragedy hit the family. LaTonya Sloan died from an aortic aneurysm.

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Ty'Meisha and Tim SloanHis life thrown for a loop twice by cardiovascular disease, Tim Sloan realized he needed help.

A Sergeant First Class in the Army, he got a compassionate reassignment from his base in Sacramento, California, to a similar post in Jacksonville, Florida, putting them closer to family.

For many years, Tim was protective about his daughter’s condition. He didn’t talk about it much because he feared that others might treat her differently because of it.

Because of the pacemaker, she wasn’t allowed to participate in certain contact sports, such as soccer and basketball. But she kept active in choir, dance and softball in addition to walking and jogging.

“She doesn’t use her condition as an excuse,” Tim said. “She knows her limitations and just drives on.”

Every six months, doctors test Ty’Meisha’s pacemaker, increasing and decreasing her heart rate to make sure it’s functioning properly, and collect data on any abnormal operations between visits.

“You can see the drain on her and that bothers me,” Tim said. “But it’s something that must be done.”

Ty’Meisha received another pacemaker in March. It was her fourth.

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While the Sloans once kept Ty’Meisha’s condition under wraps, it is now a source of pride.

She’s a survivor.

At the recommendation of someone on her cardiology team, Ty’Meisha was named an ambassador for the American Heart Association’s 2014 First Coast Heart Walk in Jacksonville. She appeared in local TV ads and posters for the event, and in news segments.

The reaction from neighbors and fellow church members was overwhelming, as many were just learning that the spunky girl they knew was living with a serious heart condition.

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Ty’Meisha is featured around the 0:27 mark of this Jacksonville TV story

Tim said the exposure has helped the family connect with other families struggling with heart conditions.

“There were so many people who were sharing their stories with us,” he said, adding that one man was so touched that he insisted on walking in the Heart Walk with Ty’Meisha.

For Ty’Meisha, sharing her story has generating even more support, not to much a certain amount of celebrity with her picture on billboards, in media outlets and even on a city bus.

“I was a little nervous to share my story at first,” she said. “But it was fun to let everyone know.”

The awareness and support Ty’Meisha helped raise can help researchers study her condition and the one that claimed her mother’s life.

The American Heart Association funds more cardiovascular research than any organization outside the federal government, having invested in excess of $3.7 billion, including more than $100 million annually since 1996. The organization has funded research by 13 Nobel Prize winners and has been part of many lifesaving advancements such as the first artificial heart valve, cholesterol-inhibiting drugs, heart transplantation, and CPR techniques and guidelines.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and stroke is No. 5. As frightening as those statistics are the risks of getting those diseases are even higher for African-Americans. The good news is that everyone can improve their odds by understanding their risks and taking simple steps to address them.

In addition to Ty’Meisha’s mother, her mother’s mom also died suddenly from heart disease. Clearly, there’s a family history.

“The blessing is we knew from the beginning with Ty’Meisha,” Tim said. “We could do something about it so that she could be alive.”

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Photos courtesy of Tim Sloan

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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:

CPR-giver becomes recipient, hopes others learn from his example

A mother’s heartbreaking, heartwarming tale

Stroke at 24 changed her personality – in a good way