When I was born, the doctors immediately realised something was very wrong as I couldn’t cry,” says Anna Borghesani, 41, a scientist and fitness instructor from Ipswich. “They told my parents I wouldn’t survive as I’d been born with congenital heart disease, in my case pulmonary stenosis, which is a narrowing of a heart valve. I had other ideas, however. I had surgery to widen the valve when I was just three years old. As a small child I was weak, but because I had surgery so young, I was able to lead an almost normal life.
“In 2013, when I was 37, I started to feel very, very tired and I was getting sick all the time. I frequently had colds, high fevers and palpitations and kept feeling breathless. I’d always known I’d need to have a new heart valve fitted and, when my cardiologist finally told me I had a surgery date, I felt relieved.
“However, the week before the operation I was absolutely terrified, as I knew they’d stop my heart from beating and use a heart-lung machine to circulate blood around my body during the operation. The surgery went well, but the psychological stress was immense. Given it was open-heart surgery and that the surgeons had had to cut through my breastbone to reach my heart, the pain I felt in my chest afterwards was almost unbearable. With every breath I had to breathe against the pain. I was constantly breathless, felt incredibly weak and couldn’t sleep. It was a nightmare. Eventually I became depressed, as the light at the end of the tunnel looked so dim. My husband Tim, daughter Alice, mum Maria and uncle Marcello were all wonderfully supportive, however. I would’ve been lost without them.
“A few days after the surgery, I was encouraged to start walking again. I was given an exercise schedule and had to walk for five minutes each day for the first few days and then build up to seven minutes and then 10, and so on. I had to be careful because of the scar tissue, but I persevered as I was determined to run again. I had started running once a week while at university, to beat the stress of studying for exams. Three months after the surgery, I was able to resume running and felt pure happiness at being able to get outdoors. Before long, I was able to run 5K and then 10K once a week.
“In order to have a target for getting fit, and to run for charity to raise awareness that people such as myself can lead a normal life, I entered the 2014 London Marathon, which took place 15 months after my surgery. My friends and family were very worried when I told them I wanted to do a marathon, particularly my mum. But they were also very encouraging. My cardiologist wasn’t too happy either! But he also understood my motivation.
“I didn’t do any races in the build-up to London, but on the day I completed it in 5hrs 29mins, which I was thrilled about. I loved everything about the event: the crowds who supported us, and the other runners running for great causes and reasons.
“The sense of achievement as I crossed the finish line was immense. I was the happiest person on the planet. Willpower, stubbornness and determination pulled me through. Along the way, I raised almost £3,000 for Heart Research UK and the messages I received were incredibly heart-warming!
“Having run a marathon totally changed my view of myself, as it’s such a mind over body exercise, and I’ve since got another three under my belt: Manchester, Ely and Brighton. In 2016, I managed to improve my marathon time by almost an hour, achieving a PB of 4hrs 39mins, which was my greatest running achievement to date besides London.
“My London Marathon medal now hangs in a frame in my lounge. It means so much to me because every time I look at it my eyes fill up with tears and I thank my mum for having fought for my health since my birth.
“Seeing my medal makes me thankful that I have incredible willpower that allowed me to beat the pain after surgery, pull myself together and step by step, walk by walk, jog by jog and then run by run achieve 42.2K
on my own two feet. Even when the going was tough I kept telling myself, ‘I can do it’. And so I did!”