Heart Month draws attention to the fact that cardiovascular disease is the No.1 killer of Americans.

At 7 months pregnant, Julie Wilkes' mother developed a severe case of internal poison ivy. The poison ivy attacked the umbilical cord and prevented Julie from receiving the proper nutrients to fully develop. At birth, her heart stopped and after several unsuccessful attempts of revival, she came back on what she says was her "own will."

Julie was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect, or a hole in the heart, and a heart murmur. "The doctors told my mother that I wouldn't live long; there was nothing they could do. At just four pounds, I was too small to operate," Julie said. "They told my mother to take me home and love me -- I would be lucky to see 6 months."

Six months later, Julie went back to the doctor and they wrote "miracle" across her chart. As a child, Julie was told she would live to her mid-teens. But at the age of 7, her gym teacher, Mr. Larson, taught Julie an important lesson that would change her life that her heart could be strengthened through cardiovascular exercise. Thanks to Mr. Larson, she adopted an exercise routine at an early age and stuck with it. And in her mid-20s, the doctors no longer gave her a life expectancy. "I was told I would grow to live a normal life," Julie said.

Julie has since been living a rich and full life. She earned her Master's degree in exercise physiology from The Ohio State University and has taught aerobics for 14 years. She currently works in wellness and human resources for a business consulting firm, owns a fitness company and produces her own fitness videos. "I believe that the gifts we are given in life are not worth anything unless we can give them back to others," Julie said. "Fitness gave me my life, and so I would like to give that gift back."

Most recently, Julie has become a volunteer with the American Heart Association. She serves on their speaker's bureau, sharing her inspiring story with others, and plans to attend several association events throughout the year. Julie plans to be very active throughout the month of February American Heart Month, the month that every year since 1963 the president has issued a national proclamation drawing attention to the fact that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of all Americans, a disease that claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. However, with the right choices the disease is largely preventable. With heart-healthy choices, nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be avoided. This February, choose your heart choose to eat better, exercise more and live longer.