ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Tonya Menendez thought she was a picture of health at age 55.

But when she started feeling short of breath and the inability to do things she used to do easily started to become difficult she thought it might be asthma.

“It had been ongoing for quite a long time and my husband kept asking me to please go to a doctor,” Menendez said.

That got her radiologist husband’s attention. So Menendez made an appointment with an allergist who started by listening to her heart.

“He said wow. That’s quite an impressive heart murmur you have there. I said well I’ve had it my whole life. No big deal. And it’s never been a problem,” Menendez said.

However, the doctor didn’t think so sending Menendez for an echocardiogram immediately which revealed a congenital heart defect, a bicuspid aortic valve with severe stenosis.

Menendez’s valve had two flaps instead of three making it hard for her heart to pump blood into the main artery.

“I could have dropped dead at any moment doing any activity because it was so bad,” Menendez said.

Cardiologist Dr. Samantha Avery at the Heart Institute in South Pasadena told Menendez she would need the valve replaced and within a week she had the surgery.

“That’s typically what happens with females. We say it’s something else because it couldn’t possibly be this thing but the reality of the situation is cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women,” Dr. Avery said.

“I was really just dumbfounded because I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life. I’m extremely active. I was taking absolutely no medications,” Menendez said.

After recovering from surgery, Menendez is now back to all of her favorite activities and has some advice to other women who feel similarly.

“Go to your doctor every year. Pay attention to your body,” she said.