‘When we got that dreaded knock on the door from the police, we knew it wasn’t good news,’ says Elita Cozens, 54.
It should have been a pleasant spring weekend in March 2013. Elita was visiting her in-laws in Llanbedr, Wales, with her husband, Simon.
But when Simon didn’t come back from a walk, his family were horrified to learn that their beloved son, husband and father, had died from a cardiac arrest.
Now, Elita is running the London Marathon to raise funds in her late-husband’s honour.
Elita, who lives in Lincolnshire, says: ‘It’s been 10 years since Simon died, and it’s only now I can talk about it without getting too distressed.
‘I just couldn’t understand. He went for a walk but never came back.’
Simon was born with coarctation of the aorta – a narrowing of the aorta, the major blood vessel which carries blood from the heart to rest of the body.
He had surgery to repair this when he was just five years old, with a second surgery to repair a hole in his heart when he was seven.
Simon didn’t see a cardiologist again until he and Elita had their daughter, Alexandra, in February 1996.
Alexandra, now 27, was born with a small hole in her heart and developed Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome in her teens, which caused her heart to beat abnormally.
Alexandra needed surgery to prevent these abnormalities from developing into atrial fibrillation – a condition which makes your heart beat fast and irregularly.
Elita, who grew up in Belize in Central America, said: ‘We were taking Alexandra to her yearly check-ups when her cardiologist suggested Simon also be looked up, and made a referral to his GP in 2011.
‘After he was seen by a consultant, they said they couldn’t believe he was still alive and that he was a walking, living miracle.
‘They could see he had narrowing in one of the arteries from the heart to the brain and he’d need two surgeries to correct this.’
Simon’s first surgery took place in October 2012, with his second scheduled for May 2013. But tragically, Simon would never have that surgery.
In March 2013, Simon went out for a walk. Despite his heart condition, he exercised regularly and worked in both the armed forces and fire service. Elita describes him as having ‘a thirst for living life to the fullest’.
‘When he hadn’t come home by the afternoon, we started to get worried,’ she says. ‘I tried to call him, but he wasn’t answering, I thought perhaps he’d lost signal.
‘His dad went out in the car to see if he could spot him, but to no avail.’
At 5pm that evening, two police officers came to the house, to deliver the devastating news.
Officers told the family two walkers had seen Simon collapse. They had administered CPR, but sadly nothing could be done to save him. He had passed away at just 48-years-old.
‘He looked so healthy on the surface, but underneath there was a ticking timebomb – a hidden killer,’ says Elita.
In that aftermath of Simon’s death, Elita says that the distress and trauma that she and her daughter experienced was ‘huge’ and that ‘life as we knew it, changed forever.’
But now, a decade on from their tragic loss, and Elita finds it easier to talk about what happened to her husband.
And in tribute to Simon, she’s taking on the iconic TCS London Marathon to raise vital funds for the BHF’s lifesaving research into heart and circulatory conditions.
Every five minutes someone is admitted to a UK hospital due to a heart attack. Before the BHF existed seven out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal, but today more than seven out of 10 people survive.
Elita added: ‘I’m so passionate about raising as much as I can for the BHF. While I wish there was more that could have been done for Simon, there’s so much research the BHF is funding that makes a huge difference to people’s lives.
‘I would like to see research continue so other families don’t have to experience what we did.
‘If I can give just one family that opportunity to have more time with their loved ones, it’s worth it.’
This TCS London Marathon, which takes place on Sunday 23 April, Team BHF runners, like Elita, will help fund groundbreaking research into new treatments and potential cures for heart and circulatory conditions.
Karen McDonnell, senior events manager at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘We never fail to be inspired by the incredible stories of our supporters, and Elita is no exception.
’With around 7.6 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK, every single step our runners take will help power science to find new cures and treatments to save and improve more lives. We’re extremely grateful for Elita’s support and can’t wait to cheer her over the finish line.’
To help Elita reach her fundraising target, visit her JustGiving page here.
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