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Official still putting best foot forward

Ruby Brabo sits in the living room of her Dahlgren home, her right foot propped up on the couch and a set of crutches nearby.

Asked how she likes being forced to relax, she said: “It’s horrible, it’s just awful.”

The 44-year-old represents the Dahlgren District on the King George Board of Supervisors and isn’t used to being idle.

When she took office in January 2011, she vowed to make the post a full-time job. Like her cohorts, she attends a variety of other community events in addition to supervisor sessions.

But unlike them, she maintains a Facebook page where she posts news about board decisions and asks for input on upcoming issues. She also fields questions from residents at quarterly town-hall meetings and sends out a monthly newsletter about county-related matters.

But two fainting spells, related to a condition that required her to get a pacemaker two years ago, have made Brabo take a break.

“I need to make sure I take care of myself and realize my limitations,” she said. “I have a tendency to be a workaholic.”

The second time she passed out and fell—at a conference in Richmond in January—she strained ligaments and tendons in her right foot. She’s on crutches and can’t drive and is following doctor’s orders to give her body a chance to recover.

“If I don’t, I’m not doing my family any favors, but I’m also not doing my constituents any favors.”


In fall 2010, Brabo blacked out twice and was hospitalized. Monitors revealed her heart rate dropped to 28 beats per minute when she slept.

The normal rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

She was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome, a condition in which the heart doesn’t get the signals to beat regularly.

She had a pacemaker implanted in September 2010 to regulate the rhythm.

Her ailment is relatively uncommon, according to the Mayo Clinic, but is more likely to happen to people over 70, as a result of wear-and-tear on the heart.

Brabo was 42 and running half-marathons.

The device’s record shows her heart rate drops below 40 beats per minute about 12 percent of the time. This month, Brabo was diagnosed with a second condition: neurocardiogenic syncope. When her heart rate bottoms out, her pacemaker kicks in to keep her heart going, but she faints because there’s not enough blood going to the brain. There’s no treatment, but doctors suggest that patients do things like drink more fluids and use more salt. And, because Brabo passed out both times in the morning, doctors recommended she drink a glass of juice and wait 15 minutes before getting out of bed.


Brabo talks openly about her condition. At a workshop for candidates interested in seeking office, she said she couldn’t campaign door to door because invisible fences disrupt her pacemaker.

Last year, during discussions on the need for more paid fire and rescue workers, she mentioned how scary it is to have a cardiac condition—and not know how quickly she’d get help.

She found out in December, when she had the first of two fainting spells since the pacemaker.

A squad from King George’s Dahlgren station was called first, but no volunteers were available that Saturday, about 9:30 a.m. Dispatchers then asked for mutual aid from the Navy base at Dahlgren. The base sent a Basic Life Support squad. Brabo needed more service than it could provide, so an ambulance was dispatched from fire and rescue headquarters, off State Route 3.

The ambulance got there 25 minutes after her collapse.

“To be faced with this kind of reality can be extremely unsettling,” she read in February 2012, during a report on American Heart Month.


Friends, neighbors and fellow supervisor John LoBuglio are driving Brabo to board meetings and budget work sessions while she’s on crutches.

She doesn’t worry that the pressure of public office will worsen her condition. Her husband, Robert, said he’s certain it won’t keep her from serving the county.

He said it’s up to him and the couple’s two daughters “to do whatever we can to make life easier at home.” Brabo said she loves serving constituents. “I don’t find that stressful at all,” she said. “What can be stressful is trying to get across my points to my colleagues on the board, in a manner they can understand and in a manner in which I feel my viewpoint was at least heard.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425