A HIDDEN DEFECT: Alex joined two friends on a cross-Snowdonia trek to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation after undergoing open heart surgery (Image: Collect/PA Real Life)
A runner whose silent heart attack revealed a defect that put him at risk of premature death has now raised more than £50,000 by trekking 100 miles. A year after the attack, Alex Roth, 56, a media executive, tackled the distance across Snowdonia to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Alex believed he was having an asthma attack as he had trouble breathing while running in January 2022, but he had suffered a heart attack, and his life was at risk due to an unrelated heart defect. Alex lives with his wife, Erin, 57, a school chairperson, and has three children, Jack, 26, Max, 25, and Helen, 20.
He would run 35 miles a week on average, rain or shine, summer or winter, and was in good shape, having never smoked and had drank little alcohol, so he never thought he would be someone at risk of a heart attack. Alex first experienced breathing problems in 2018 but became more laboured in January 2022.
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Alex said: "Afterwards, I kept saying to my wife, 'I don't understand how this could possibly happen to me', but I've now realised that being fit and looking after yourself is not a way to avoid these things. You are still at risk of things like heart disease and have to be aware of the signs; however, being healthy is a good way to prepare to deal with something like this when it happens.
"If I hadn't been in good shape, then things could have ended up a lot worse than they did. I've always considered myself to be healthy, but I started having trouble breathing while running, which I assumed was a bit of asthma. I couldn't run four miles without taking a break, and even then, I continued to feel discomfort in my throat."
Alex had suffered a heart attack with no chest pain or other common symptoms, and when he explained the 'strange' feeling in his throat, his doctor referred him to a cardiologist. They investigated his heart for damage and realised he had a mitral valve defect, which occurs when the mitral valve becomes too floppy, leaks or does not open wide enough.
He said: "The doctor recognised that it was a cardiac issue and told me that I was not permitted to do any exercise of any form until I had seen the specialist. But not realising how serious this was, I woke up the next morning and told my wife I was going for a run.
"I just didn't understand and had no concept of heart disease and what it looked like. When I saw the cardiologist, he explained that, based on blood tests, I had had a heart attack at some point in the prior two weeks. I realise now, looking back, that running after having had a heart attack was actually a very dangerous thing to do.
"The defect leads to premature death, so the irony is that the heart attack probably saved my life because if I'd not had it, then I wouldn't have realised I was living with a severe heart defect."
Alex required open heart surgery to repair the valve, so he was only allowed to walk for exercise, walking around 35 miles a week until he went under the knife last year. He said after leaving surgery, he felt really weak, despite being 'strong going into it', and was depressed, but he decided to set goals for himself.
Alex ran 10km in February 2023 after regaining his strength before taking on a half marathon, but he had to stop after completing eight miles. But Alex has found a new passion for walking and decided to raise funds for BHF with two friends in Snowdonia between May 8 to 12, naming the challenge the Eryri 100 after the Welsh name for Snowdonia.
He said: "It was harder than I expected it to be but, in many ways, Eryri 100 was a microcosm of my entire illness and recovery. I could tell that my fitness is not what it used to be, and the trek was super challenging, but I did it with the support of family and friends.
"It was quite emotional. I think the most touching part was after the fourth day, which was the toughest of all the five days, we arrived at a pub, and when we got there, so many friends and colleagues had come from London to join us.
"My wife, Erin, was there, and I just couldn't believe that everyone had come out to support us on the last day of the hike."
Alex, from London, has now raised more than £54,000 for BHF.
To donate, visit the website here.
What are your thoughts on Alex's challenge? Let us know in the comments below.
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