Intrepid Jon Zigmond put his heart and soul into fundraising after recovering from major heart surgery and fighting his way back to fitness so he could continue with his sporty lifestyle.
Jon, 64, from Rosedale Abbey in the North York Moors, wanted to raise money to help other patients looked after by the dedicated hospital teams at The James Cook University Hospital who look after him and his wife.
Thanks to his magnificent fundraising efforts and the generous people who sponsored him in the cardiology and diabetes departments at the Middlesbrough hospital will share a fantastic £7,500 donation.
Jon always maintained an athletic lifestyle, enjoying high altitude mountaineering and rock climbing before moving on to tough 140.6 miles ironman distance triathlons after getting the bug after completing his first one at 50.
Triathlete Jon had taken his tally to an amazing nine ironman distance triathlons by September 2012. With zero background in any of the sports when he first heard of ironman he took swimming classes as he could barely swim, hadn’t ridden a bike since age 15, and had never owned running shoes or ran.
Heart issues disrupted Jon’s active lifestyle in October 2012 following a stroke caused by atrial fibrillation – irregular and abnormally fast heart rate.
Unlucky to have had rheumatic fever as a teenager – which can damage the heart valve making the heart inefficient – this did not cause him serious problems until 2012, after his aortic valve had leaked for almost 50 years.
Determined to carry on as normal, Jon steadfastly entered triathlons as usual in 2013. His first one was a new race – Outlaw Half in Nottingham – half the full ironman distance, 70.3 miles.
After falling ill suddenly 48 hours before leaving home for the race, he was taken to another hospital by ambulance from GP surgery and returned home four days later having had a pacemaker fitted. Soon afterwards Jon realised his heart valve was deteriorating quite rapidly and was advised by the hospital he would need aortic valve replacement.
Jon’s research revealed The James Cook University Hospital was the leading hospital in aortic valve replacement and had pioneered a less invasive method of replacing the valve, so he asked his GP to be referred to the hospital for what would be major heart surgery.
After recovering fairly quickly, Jon was soon happily riding climbs on the Tour de France grand depart stage one, as well as running reasonable distances. He said: “I sometimes comment to other athletes they all ride carbon fibre bicycles. It is rare to see anything else at a race. Whereas I race on an old-fashioned looking steel bike, but I have a carbon fibre heart valve!”
Grateful to the hospital team which saved his life and helped him to continue and maintain the lifestyle which is so important to him he wanted to thank cardiologist Dr Andrew Sutton, cardiothoracic surgeon, Mr Enoch Akowuah and the dedicated cardiology staff at James Cook.
Within three weeks of Jon’s first appointment with Dr Sutton, Jon’s wife Sally suffered a stroke (her third) due to having type 1 diabetes for most of her life. Following Jon’s fantastic experience she also transferred her care to James Cook and also receives wonderful treatment.
Jon decided he wanted the Outlaw Half – the first race he missed in 2013 – to be his first triathlon following his heart surgery, and despite dreadful weather on race day he successfully completed the race on 31 May this year, just missing the podium in his age group.
He said: “I wanted to do something to benefit James Cook to thank them for the care both I and my wife receive and for helping me continue with my athletic endeavours.
“I wanted to show, at least to myself, what is possible following aortic valve replacement – which means I have to take Warfarin for life – and with a pacemaker and sometimes atrial fibrillation. So many others told me I would have to give up being an athlete after my heart surgery. I didn’t agree and wanted to show what is possible.
“I would like to think what I do might be some encouragement to others and make them realise they need not be unduly restricted in what they do. And I haven’t finished yet – I have entered a full ironman distance race in 2016!
“As I keep saying to all the wonderful people who work at James Cook, you don’t realise how wonderful you are.”