At just 21 Gemma started suffering from seizures. After being diagnosed with epilepsy she was being treated, but the seizures didn’t stop. She was then diagnosed with a heart condition.
When my seizures didn’t stop, I was taken for a tilt table test. I had to lie on a bed as it was slowly tilted until I was in a standing position. During this my heart rhythm, rate (ECG) and blood pressure were monitored. It was discovered that my heart rate was dropping and pausing from time to time.
In one point my heart rhythm paused for 28 seconds. Doctors also identified that after these pauses I would often have a fit. Within a week of my tilt table test on 14 August 2008, I had a pacemaker fitted.
My condition is called neurocardiogenic syncopy. This is when less blood reaches the brain causing symptoms such as dizziness and fainting, and sometimes abnormalities with the heart's rhythm.
I have bradycardia, which means my heart was beating too slowly, then pausing. I would then have a fit which kick started my heart again. Now when my heart pauses, the pacemaker takes over. Because I am quite active the leads became dislodged, so I had to have the leads repositioned in January 2009.
When I first had to have a pacemaker I was absolutely distraught.
My condition has had a huge effect on my life. When I found out I had to have a pacemaker I was absolutely distraught. I felt like they were for old people; I thought everything was going to stop. I thought that was the end of my running and going to the gym.
Coming to terms
This wasn’t the case. I was able to continue with my routine and everything was fine until last year when I started having fits again. I was in the gym with my trainer and I just collapsed.
Following this it was discovered I had tachycardia, which means my heart was beating too quickly, and then it was pausing, bringing on a fit. So they inserted a device called an implantable loop recorder (sometimes known as a Reveal), to continuously record the electrical activity of my heart.
In 2010 I welcomed my daughter, Olivia. It is very frightening to think that something might happen to me. I am a single parent and it worries me to think that if anything happened I’d be leaving Olivia on her own. Before she was born I moved back to Cumbria to be near my family.
At first I felt a lot of stigma about the pacemaker. But now I feel completely different. It's what's keeping me alive.
Gemma appeared on ITV2’s Big Christmas Reunion, part of ITV's Text Santa fundraising appeal. If you missed the episode you can watch it again on ITV1 Sunday 15 at 5.00pm. Make sure to check out the Big Reunion Christmas single music video, of which all profits will go to Text Santa
Over 2 million people in the UK struggle with the devastating effects of heart disease. The money raised through Text Santa will enable us to continue to fund nurses, who provide vital care in communities and ensuring help is just a phone call away.
To donate £5 text SANTA to 70070. Every penny of your donation will be distributed equally between the six charities.