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A heart that beats for others

Blonde and bubbly with pretty blue eyes, 30-year-old Claire Lister is kitted out and determined,  as she prepares to run the gruelling Deloitte Challenge in honour of those who can’t.

Born with CHD (Congenital heart disorder), with seven different malfunctions of the heart, Claire, a Westville-based special needs teacher, is a survivalist with a single motivation – her son. And her motivation for putting her body through a race like this, in this year’s even more blistering summer heat – The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa (TCCFA).

“I was born with a hole in each of the four chambers of my heart which allowed the oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to mix. My aorta and pulmonary artery were crossed, and I was born without a spleen. The surgeon who performed both my open heart surgeries, Professor Kinsley, launched TCCFA and, since its inception in April last year, has performed four free life-saving surgeries.”

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Knowing the positive impact her own surgeries have had on her life, Claire was determined to find a way to pay it forward during the course of her life. Last year, she finally found a way. Through her passion for running, she has found a way to raise  much-needed funds for those less fortunate, so that they too may have a second chance at life.

“Without these operations, I would have died. I was diagnosed when I was a few hours old by a paediatrician who had recently lost his son to CHD, and knew the signs. The years ahead for me were filled with countless doctor’s visits, travelling, hospital admissions and, most importantly, making sure I was warm. Because I was born without a spleen, if I got sick, it would have been a bigger deal than normal. My lips and fingernails were permanently blue or purple and other children would often comment on that, so I lived most of my childhood feeling self-conscious as well.”

At school, Claire was not able to participate in a lot of sporting activities or physical education because she’d get too tired and couldn’t keep up. Even climbing the stairs was something she couldn’t do without having to stop to catch her breath.

“In spite of this, and the regular heart rhythm checks by my mom, I was very lucky that my mom didn’t ‘cotton wool’ me. She let me do what my siblings and friends were doing, as long as I knew my limits. If I’m being deadly honest, being told that doing anything too strenuous might make me tired was the perfect excuse for teenage me not to work out. But, as I got older, exercise became a great passion of mine.”

Claire regularly visits the gym, runs as a member of the Chiltern Athletics Club, and makes sure that weekends are dedicated to doing something active with her husband, Lex, and three-year-old son, Matt.

“I enjoy the running community, the vibe and the encouragement. Besides the fact that it is a great way to clear your head, have some ‘me time’ or catch up with friends, I honestly believe that exercise is the best medicine. My biggest motivation to stay fit though is my son. I want to be around to see him grow up. I miscarried quite late in my first pregnancy, and it is suspected that it was because of my CHD. I was on blood thinning injections every day from about 12 weeks and had to fly to Cape Town every couple of months, as the only cardiologist who would follow me through a pregnancy was based there. We then had to move to Cape Town when I was 27 weeks until Matt was born (at 33 weeks). He is happy and healthy, but I am unfortunately not allowed to go through another pregnancy, which breaks my heart as I would love to have had another child. But, I am the only one responsible for keeping myself and my body healthy, so it is important that I do, and sacrifice what I need to, in order to stay that way.”

“What most people also don’t know is that CHD is killing more children than childhood cancer is, because its either not detected or the surgery is done too late. I know first-hand how expensive having a heart defect is, and unfortunately not everyone is in a position to afford medical aid.  I was fortunate.”

Each surgery costs more than R400 000 and through TCCFA, Professor Kingsley offers his services pro bono, but it is the countless other costs incurred during the operation, as well as post-surgery medical care, that need to be covered.

“I e-mailed Professor Kingsley and said I would love to get involved and raise some money to help cover these costs. I figured running to raise funds for the NPO could be my way of doing so. Along the way, I am hoping to also serve as some source of encouragement to others.”

In the build-up to the Deloitte Challenge – a Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans qualifier from Ballito to Durban’s Amphitheatre Promenade – the avid athlete has continued to rack up mileage on her legs, and currently trains up to three days a week. She’s successfully completed the Goss & Balfe Sapphire Coast Half Marathon for the same cause, so she is confident about the upcoming challenge, but hopes the heat will have simmered down a little by race day on 15 March.

“I only started running properly last year around May, so prior to this I’ve only trained in winter, and I can’t believe what a difference it makes running in the heat, which has been a bit of a hindrance for me. But, I am determined. My goal on the day is to better my last half marathon time, but I will be happy if I just finish before the cut off time. My dream, over and above this, is to raise awareness and as much money as I can, through this race and any other activities I can participate in, for the foundation. I would love to somehow get involved with CHD children; to exercise with them, get them to learn how to look after themselves and their hearts in the most natural way; and to give a them and their parents hope that they can live normal lives.”

The single most important thing Claire says is to keep moving, to get out into nature, follow a healthy diet and, above all, respect her heart condition.

“I have a story that I want to share if it can help people, and if I can do so by running, then I will be living my dream. There is no feeling like lacing up, having my body and my legs carry me across a finish line, hearing the cheers amidst a fantastic race atmosphere and knowing that I am doing it all for an incredible reason.”

If you would like to show Claire some support by backing her in her race for The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa visit www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/claire-for-tccfa


Claire’s Tip Tips for keeping active

  • Do something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the exercise you’re doing, it’s likely that you won’t be motivated to keep exercising.
  • Find a friend who will keep you accountable; either someone you work out with, or someone who you tell and then follow up. I have a friend I do this with. It’s dorky, but it works.
  • Plan something active to do with friends, family, your kids on the weekend, whether it be a hike, a jog on the beach or a swim.
  • Set goals for yourself at the beginning of the week, and then reflect back on them on Sunday.
  • Stick your goals up where you can see them.


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