A RINGWOOD mum whose son was born with a heart defect is taking on a swimming challenge to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Jo Martinez will swim 1.4 miles in open sea as part of this year’s Bournemouth Pier to Pier Swim today and tomorrow (July 3 and 4).

She has been motivated to take part as her son, Zack, was born with Eisenmenger syndrome – a heart defect that causes the blood to circulate abnormally in the heart and lungs.

The 38-year-old said: “Zack was two when we first learnt there was a problem. He had gone into hospital for a minor operation. When they put him under anaesthetic the oxygen levels in his blood suddenly dropped and they had to stop the procedure.

“At first the doctors thought it was the result of an infection. But when they tried the operation again six months later the same thing happened. They carried out a range of tests and found that he had a problem with his heart.”

Further tests revealed that Zack, who is now ten, had been born with a hole between two of the chambers of his heart allowing unoxygenated blood to circulate in the body.

Jo, who works as a shoe designer, said: “It was a shock to learn that Zack’s heart was causing this problem. Earlier that week I’d just given birth to my daughter, so it was an incredibly emotional time. It took some time for us to take in what this meant for Zack and for us as a family.

“In a way we were very lucky. A lot of people with this syndrome don’t find out until they are in their teens or older. That means they can grow up wondering why they’re not able to physically keep up with other children. The early diagnosis means that Zack’s been able to take medication since an early age and we’ve been able to teach him about the condition.”

Jo says she is a keen swimmer and “always fancied giving this swim a go”. She added: “I’ve always fancied giving this swim a go. I’ve always really enjoyed swimming, and I’ve done scuba diving in the past as well.

"I’m not worried about the distance, but the challenge will be swimming in the sea with a tide. And with the last year of lockdowns, my fitness is not where it used to be.

“I’m very motivated to take part because I’m inspired by the scientific progress the BHF is helping to fund. Their scientists are working all the time to discover new medicines that can improve and save lives. So, I want to play my part by fundraising to support that work.”

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