Heart dis­ease sur­vivor runs Chicago Marathon

The Norwalk Hour - - TOWN NEWS - By Pat Tom­lin­son

As Selina San­tos strode the last few steps to­ward the fin­ish line of the Chicago Marathon last Oct. 7, her legs felt weak and her vi­sion wa­vered, yet her heart was beat­ing strong with every stride, and that meant ev­ery­thing to her.

The 26.2-mile course around Chicago rep­re­sents a chal­lenge to even the most ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners, but for the 42-year-old Wil­ton woman, the marathon marked an even greater tri­umph. San­tos’ ac­com­plish­ment came about eight years af­ter she was first di­ag­nosed with heart dis­ease — a di­ag­no­sis she once be­lieved would keep her from liv­ing an or­di­nary life, and pre­vent her from push­ing her­self to her phys­i­cal lim­its.

“Be­ing able to run Chicago af­ter be­liev­ing I couldn’t gives me new pur­pose, not just for me, but for those who have heart dis­ease and for every­one who has been told they can’t,” San­tos said.

Fin­ish­ing the marathon wasn’t easy. San­tos re­called a mo­ment to­ward the end where she hit a wall, phys­i­cally and men­tally.

“My legs started lock­ing up and it got harder to breathe. I grew a lit­tle dizzy and it started to feel like there was a fish flip-flop­ping around in my chest, so I started get­ting anx­ious,” San­tos said.

It was at this point San­tos looked down at her heart mon­i­tor for re­as­sur­ance, only to learn that it had stopped work­ing some­where along the run. Fear­ing for her safety, San­tos slowed to a walk.

“I started to get up­set, but then I got to think­ing. I wasn’t even sup­posed to be able to run this race; my car­di­ol­o­gist even told me at one point that I maybe shouldn’t . ... Then I thought to my­self, ‘Selina, stop wor­ry­ing about time. It’s your goal to fin­ish,’ ” she said.

De­ter­mined to fin­ish the race on her own terms, San­tos walked and ran in in­ter­vals for the last few miles and ended the fi­nal quar­ter­mile at a run.

“Fin­ish­ing a marathon is no small feat for any run­ner, but for San­tos, a heart dis­ease sur­vivor, cross­ing that fin­ish line meant so much more,” said Carolyn Torella, a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion. “She showed that not only can you sur­vive heart dis­ease, you can thrive.”

The jour­ney to­ward the Chicago Marathon be­gan in 2010, when San­tos be­gan in­creas­ingly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pal­pi­ta­tions, chest pain and short­ness of breath. For years, doc­tors told her that her symp­toms, which be­gan man­i­fest­ing them­selves as far back as her teens and 20s, were stress re­lated and noth­ing to worry about.

It wasn’t un­til she un­der­went test­ing in Stam­ford that her car­di­ol­o­gist pin­pointed the prob­lem — heart valve in­suf­fi­ciency and tiny holes in her heart. The doc­tor gave her two choices: surgery or ex­ten­sive life­style changes.

In­stead of un­der­go­ing surgery, the mother of two elected to change her diet and take up spin classes. It started with one class per week, then turned into daily classes. Even­tu­ally, she be­came a spin in­struc­tor at JoyRide Cy­cling and Fit­ness in Wil­ton.

Once she came to dom­i­nate spin­ning, her gaze moved on to the next chal­lenge: run­ning a marathon.

“It felt like a sec­ond chance and an op­por­tu­nity to show oth­ers liv­ing with heart dis­ease to make that life­style change,” San­tos said.

For her ef­forts, San­tos was rec­og­nized as the 2016 Faces of Heart Am­bas­sador at the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s Go Red For Women Lun­cheon. Her story has since raised aware­ness for the No. 1 killer of women — heart dis­ease.

“You look at me and you prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to tell I have heart dis­ease, and there are many oth­ers out there like me. I want those peo­ple to know what I’m do­ing, whether it’s spin­ning or run­ning marathons, and know it’s pos­si­ble to con­quer a new goal at any stage of life, no mat­ter the set­back,” she said.

Con­trib­uted photo

Selina San­tos, 42, of Wil­ton cel­e­brates at the fin­ish line of the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7.

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