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Melanie Friend

An inspirational heartfelt story of an Aortic Dissection patient’s triumph, determination, and true love in New York!

Melanie Friend

Colin, an avid marathon runner, tells us about his chance meeting of Melanie Friend in a coffee shop in Street, Somerset. 

‘I first met Mel in a coffee shop and it soon became clear we were both keen runners. As we spoke about which events we had completed and were due to do, I told her I was soon to do the Marrakesh marathon. Mel had run 4 marathons, half marathons, 10k’s and numerous parkruns. However, she explained that 2 years prior she had been training to run an ultra-marathon in May 2021 when during her training she felt a pop in her chest.

Thinking she had perhaps just pulled a muscle, she carried on, the next morning getting up early to run 5 miles as part of her training, taking painkillers and shrugging off the pain in her chest.

Thanks to her best friend, Michelle Fellows, who insisted on getting help, Mel eventually gave in and called 111. With pain now in her back, throat and left side of the jaw, an ambulance arrived to take her to Yeovil hospital. 

At hospital a chest X-ray and ECG didn’t show anything suspicious, until a CT scan found she had torn two of the three layers of her aorta!

On Friday 7th May 2021, Melly was blue lighted to Bristol Royal Infirmary, where that night she underwent emergency open heart surgery to repair her ascending aorta – essentially cutting out the damaged section and sewing in a fabric pipe replacement section. If it wasn’t for her amazing friend Michelle and the NHS, Melly wouldn’t be here. 

Since this happened Mel has been slowly building up her fitness and rebuilding her strength and endurance and, if she doesn’t try and keep up with Mo Farrah, we could run together. We spoke about our shared passion for running and on our second date we ran 5k together and went out for dinner…. perfect! I honestly struggled to keep up with her. 

We slowly planned more runs together and as we got to know each other it became clear that one of Melly’s dreams was to run the NYC marathon. I was already booked to go with Sports Tours International. I emailed the team to see if I could add Melly and a plan was now in place!

However, things weren’t all going as planned, when we heard from her surgeon a few months later after a follow up scan to say whilst he was pleased she was keeping fit, she wasn’t to run. This was a devastating blow to Mel, and she struggled to accept this, feeling very low and teary and I thought I had lost her.

This news drastically affected us both, our mental health was suffering, especially for Mel. The surgeon advised her BP must stay under 120/80 and heart rate must not exceed 150bpm, but she could still exercise at least 150 minutes per week. 

So, we put together a plan. We could get back into park runs and walk if necessary and we searched for other aortic athletes and found some, one of whom had completed an Ironman post dissection. 

We carried on carefully checking BP and HR and working out Melly’s limitations and keeping well below then with our mantra in mind ‘today is a new day, today is a good day’. 

During the following months, we have jogged and walked and completed 23 park runs in 23 different places in 2 different countries including: 

Bristol half, Chippenham 10k, Henley river half, Chippenham, half, Dorney Lake half

And……….

On Sunday 5th November we completed our 26.2-mile party, Melly’s 5th marathon and her first marathon post dissection, The 2023 New York marathon!!

After 7.31 hours we completed it, including spending over half an hour of chatting with supporters, taking selfies and soaking up the atmosphere.

I am so proud of Melly; she is amazing and so much stronger that I could ever imagine to be. She is an inspiration and has helped me with my own struggles with depression.  We laugh together every day, and she really is my bestest, bestest friend!

As we crossed the finish line together, I took her hand and took her to the side and got down on one knee, I told her how extremely proud I was of her and asked if she would marry me………

And, she said YES!!!!

Our story has just begun……………….’