Marathon runner endures 2 open heart surgeries

GOLDEN, Colo. --  February is National Heart Month, and each week Channel 2 is partnering with the American Heart Association to bring you a story about heart disease.  This is part of our “2 Your Health” initiative, and part of our goal to educate and empower the community.

This week we talked with a Denver nurse named Mary Bateman as she was running the Apex Trail in Golden.

She was a marathon runner in her 20s, but her life took a different path after she discovered she had a congenital heart defect, and needed her first open heart surgery when she was just 30 years old, and had just given birth to her daughter.

american_heart_association_logo“(I) had a headache, dizzy, my blood pressure was really high, and just knew something was wrong,” she said. Mary was diagnosed with aortic coarctation, or narrowing of the aorta. “(I) was pretty devastated, didn't know really how to feel, because I just wanted to be a mom, she said.

Mary had surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. It was tough, but she made it through, and years later felt so good she began training for another marathon.

But that came to a screeching halt when she developed an aneurysm in her aorta and needed another open heart surgery. “I was more upset because I thought my heart defect was fixed,” Mary said through tears.

Her second surgery had some serious complications, and Mary almost died.

“I didn`t have any brain activity for about 8 minutes, so I think I went to the void and back,” she said.

Now 37, Mary still runs, just at a slower pace and with a different perspective. “I feel like I've been given not only a second chance, but a third chance in just living my life, and I want to live it to the fullest.”

She hopes other women will slow down, take time for themselves and take care of themselves. She says it’s important to know your body, and pay attention to symptoms.

Mary is not alone in her troubles. According to the CDC there are about 40,000 babies born with congenital heart defects every year.

Colorado now requires the pulse oximetry tests to find those heart defects in newborn babies.