NORMAL — Christine Bathe's heart stopped twice — once in Bloomington and once in Vladimir, Russia.

Both times, she was with medical personnel who saved her life.

But Bathe's 25-year cardiac odyssey isn't limited to two near-death experiences.

It also includes scary symptoms; two open heart surgeries; implantation of two pacemakers, including one when she was pregnant with her daughter; implantation of a defibrillator/pacemaker combination; and four heart-related diagnoses.

All of which meant lifestyle adjustments. But none of it stopped Bathe, 55, from continuing to work full time, marrying Michael Bathe and rearing a daughter, Courtney.

"I don't know how she's dealt with it," said Michael, 58, Christine's husband of 21 years. "She just has. She's brave."

"She amazes me," said Courtney, 18.

Christine, Michael and Courtney shared Christine's story to build awareness of heart disease among young women. Christine had experienced symptoms of heart disease for years but neither she or those around her associated those symptoms with heart disease.

Years ago, heart disease was associated largely with men. In recent years, medical professionals have come to realize that cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association.

"My goal is for younger women to recognize symptoms of heart disease and, if you have those issues, to tell your physician and get it checked out," Christine said in the Bathes' Normal home on Jan. 26.

Growing up, Christine would pass out when she exerted herself in P.E. class. She never had cardiac testing done because no one considered it may be heart disease.

Christine became a nurse in 1987 and several years later began working at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington.

In 1991, when she was 29, she began to experience severe pain in the middle of her back and shortness of breath anytime she walked continuously for about 10 minutes or more, such as when she was mall shopping.

"I just thought it was from carrying around a heavy purse," she said. The pain would pass after a few minutes.

In 1993, she mentioned it to her primary care physician. He ordered an EKG (electrocardiogram), which resulted in a call to cardiologist Dr. James McCriskin and admission to St. Joseph for four days of cardiac testing.

The diagnosis was myocardial bridging, which meant that her left anterior coronary artery was partially buried in her heart, resulting in constricted blood flow and pain when she exerted herself.

Christine was put on a Beta-blocker to slow her heart rate.

"I was surprised (with the diagnosis) but we thought it would be controlled with medication, exercise and healthy eating," she said.

Several months later, in October 1993, she was working one night in the St. Joseph intensive care unit when her heart stopped.

"Thank God my co-workers called a Code Blue," she said. She woke up to one nurse doing chest compressions and another giving her oxygen. She was admitted to the hospital, where test results concluded that her myocardial bridging may have caused her heart attack.

Her Beta-blockers were adjusted and she was back at work in six weeks.

Two years later, she was part of a Sister Cities medical exchange trip to Vladimir, Russia, Ironically, the focus of the trip was cardiology and Christine was to teach a class on congestive heart failure.

"We, by the grace of God, were in the cardiovascular hospital when I didn't feel very well," Christine recalled.

She collapsed at the feet of McCriskin, her cardiologist, who also was on the trip.

"She started seizing, so I started to do CPR on her," McCriskin said.

McCriskin performed rescue breaths as ICU nurse Debra Berry did chest compressions.

When Christine awoke, she knew her heart had stopped again and that she had a second heart attack.

"That was very, very scary experiencing that in a foreign country," Christine admitted. She stayed in the hospital overnight, then was released to the care of her Twin City medical colleagues.

"I was never alone. The group was always with me."

She stayed for the balance of the two-week trip but McCriskin advised her against leading the symposium because doing so would be too stressful.

"It was an odd experience to almost die in Russia," Christine said. "But the people there were very generous."

Back home, she had a battery of tests which resulted in a diagnosis of cardio-neuro syncope. She describe it as "the heart and brain aren't talking." A pacemaker was implanted to keep her heart rate steady.

On Nov. 1, 1995, Dr. Ruel Wright performed open heart surgery to pull out the buried artery so it would be on top of her heart.

In August 1996, she met Michael Bathe. After a few weeks of dating, she told him about her heart issues. He immediately became CPR certified but didn't tell her that for a long time.

They married in 1997. In September 1998, she was seven weeks pregnant with Courtney when she experienced sharp pain on the left side of her chest. She went to the emergency department where doctors concluded that her pacemaker was zapping her and she needed surgery.

"I was terrified. I was seven weeks pregnant."

Dr. Brad Smith performed the surgery, found that a wire in the pacemaker had cracked and replaced the pacemaker. Courtney was born on April 6, 1999, without complications.

Several months later, Christine began to experience chest discomfort and neck and jaw pain as she walked. In June 2000, she had her second open heart surgery.

"Scar tissue had pushed the artery back into the heart," she explained. "That's why I had the pain." During surgery, the artery was pulled back out and a vein was taken from her legs to bypass the artery.

On Easter Sunday 2010, she felt her heart rhythm change and she got dizzy. She was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a heart rhythm disorder caused by abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart. That caused her heart to beat faster, meaning the heart wasn't able to pump enough blood, resulting in the palpitations and dizziness.

Doctors implanted an automated internal cardiac defibrillator, a pacemaker/defibrillator combination that replaced her pacemaker.

In 2015, she was again experiencing chest pain when she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which happens when the walls of the heart ventricles thicken, blocking blood flow out of the ventricles.

Her pacemaker was reprogrammed, some of her medications were withdrawn and doses of others were adjusted.

Since then, Christine has felt better.

"I can't run a mile but I can walk up a flight of stairs without breathing heavily," she said. "My activity level is better."

"Now she can walk places and do things that she couldn't do before," Michael said. "I'm grateful for that."

"They (Michael and Courtney) would go on bike rides and walks and I'd have to hang back," Christine said. "Now I can do more with them. It means everything to me."

While Christine knows her conditions won't go away, she wants to manage them so she can grow old with her family.

Even though Christine's condition meant that she switched several years ago from ICU bedside nursing to a nursing desk position, she has shared her story with female heart patients to motivate them.

"God put me through this so I can share it with other women," she said. "If I can prevent a heart attack, hallelujah."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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