A Midland mother who thought she was suffering from chronic indigestion instead discovered she had a heart condition which could have killed her.

Sally Halil (pictured) suffered at least two heart attacks before cardiologists diagnosed spontaneous coronary artery dissection - an illness so rare that only 100 cases have been reported worldwide.

"I now live with heart failure but at least I found out after I had my children, otherwise I'd have been too scared to try and now I can't have any more," she said.

Mrs Halil, from Stratford-upon-Avon, spoke before the British Heart Foundation's Help a Heart Week which begins on Monday.

She is keen to dispel the myth that heart disease only affects "fat old men" who have not looked after themselves.

While her condition - which occurs in pregnancy - is very rare, one in three women in Britain are killed by heart and circulatory disease and more than 2,400 will die during Help A Heart Week.

During her mid-twenties, Mrs Halil was diagnosed with chronic indigestion and had experienced crippling chest pains, hot flushes and dizziness.

On one occasion, she was with her husband Dogan and their children in a Warwickshire pub, when she collapsed.

"Someone in the bar told me I was having a heart attack but I remember thinking that was crazy," said Mrs Halil.

" When the paramedics arrived they thought it was a panic attack because I was hyperventilating, but I was taken to Warwick Hospital to be checked over."

She said doctors believed she had chronic indigestion and prescribed Gaviscon.

The former QVC TV presenter sought advice from a GP three days later as she still felt breathless and was put on a two-month waiting list for a heart examination.

But two days later, while bathing her children - sixyearold Tariq, Kazim aged three, and 18-month-old Lela - she was overcome with pain.

Mrs Halil said: "I told my husband, Dogan, to put them to bed because I didn't want them to see me in pain, but I still didn't think it was a heart attack.

"I thought it was chronic indigestion but I called 999 anyway, and when the paramedics arrived I told them that's what it probably was.

"I was taken back to Warwick Hospital and eventually had an ECG, but it was a student doctor who realised something was wrong. That's when everything started to go crazy.

"Three cardiologists came to see me and although the readings showed I'd had a heart attack, they didn't believe it either. It just didn't seem possible."

Hours later Mrs Halil suffered another heart attack and was moved to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry.

Before her diagnosis the busy mother-of-three ran four times a week, enjoyed cycling, had a busy television career and her own skincare business.

As a teetotal non-smoker who meticulously follows an organic diet, Mrs Halil epitomises healthy living.

She said: "If I had abused my body by eating fatty foods, drinking or smoking I don't think I would have survived.

"The problem is medics have the mind set that it is only fat old men that have heart attacks although I had all the classic heart attack symptoms.

"But because I had no family history and was fit and healthy, I was sent home."

Sally now talks to recovering heart patients, and her regular runs are training walks for the British Heart Foundation's Hearts First Midsummer Walk in Stratford-upon-Avon on June 25.

She said: "Yes, my life has changed but as far as possible I've done what I can to keep it normal for the family, but least I'm still here for them."

* For information about Help a Heart Week log on to www.bhf.org.uk/helpaheart