(WKBN) – More than 1 in 2 women are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. In tonight’s “Stories of the Heart” segment, we talk with a local woman who was diagnosed with a rare type of congenital heart defect at just 26 years old. She reminds us that being an advocate for yourself is oftentimes your greatest strength.

“It was misdiagnosed as anxiety, as acid reflux and I kept saying something’s wrong,” said Danielle Jimison.

It’s because of that persistence that Jimison is alive today. It took two years and three hospitals for her to finally be diagnosed with a rare type of abnormal heartbeat.

“I have what’s called Wolff-Parkinson-White, sometimes known as WPW for short,” she said.

Basically, Jimison has extra electrical pathways in her heart that can make it beat too quickly or with an irregular rhythm.

At 24, she started noticing the signs. At 26, she received her official diagnosis and 10 days later, she was getting heart surgery to close the extra pathways.

“At that point in time, I couldn’t even believe I was in a cardiologist’s office because you’re just so young and free and you don’t think about any of that,” Jimison said.

Coming out of surgery, Jimison says her team of doctors hit her with a tough reality.

“That I would be back, they just didn’t know when. That surgery lasted about a year until the pathways started to open back up again,” Jimison said.

In total, Jimison has had three surgeries to try and close the extra pathways in her heart. Because of how close they are to the main vein that runs up the back of your heart, her doctors say it’s hard. Her next step is to someday get a pacemaker.

“I know well enough now to continue to listen to my body and know when these episodes of the rapid heart rate and the near fainting when they start becoming closer together in frequency and start lasting longer,” Jimison said.

Over her long heart journey, Jimison says she has learned a lot, mostly how precious time truly is and the importance of being an advocate for yourself.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff… Life’s too precious,” she said.

She’s proud that the American Heart Association puts so much emphasis on women’s heart health. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement was launched in 2004 with the goal of raising awareness and fighting a woman’s greatest health threat: cardiovascular disease. But Go Red is more than just a campaign, it’s a battle cry for all women to listen to their bodies, even when life gets in the way.

“It really is the matter of life or death,” Jimison said.