A solicitor whose 16-year-old sister died following a cardiac arrest is running the London Marathon to raise awareness of genetic heart conditions.
Hannah Halden’s sister Lona had been diagnosed at the age of 15 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), six months before her death, after becoming breathless when she exercised.
HCM is a disease where the muscle wall of the heart becomes thickened, which can affect its ability to pump blood effectively.
“HCM runs in our family – my mother Dolores and older sister Judy live with the condition and had been diagnosed before Lona was,” said Hannah, 33, from Birmingham.
“HCM is so well-managed in both my mother and older sister. They both have pacemakers and they swear by them. They both live their lives as well as they can, so it never really registered with Lona or anyone in our family how serious the condition could be.
“Lona lived a very happy, normal life, we grew up together doing sports, we did football and dance together. She wasn’t ever as able to do them as much as I did and I realise that was most likely because of HCM.
“She took a slight step back after the diagnosis of HCM. She continued to do dance. In terms of her social life, she was able to live her life with the HCM diagnosis.”
Hannah was 18 when Lona had a cardiac arrest at the family home in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US in August 2007.
“It was a normal day like any other. I had gone to work that morning, I was a lifeguard, and I came home and it was just me and Lona in the house,” Hannah said.
“I came down to make food, she was chatting on the phone with one of her friends. I was teasing her and then I grabbed her phone and ran off with it.
“Lona chased me, and I went outside with the phone and realised that suddenly Lona wasn’t behind me. I was like – where is she?
“That’s when I walked back into the house and found Lona lying face down on the floor. It looked like she had tripped over a box that was on the floor. She was motionless.
“At first I thought she was kidding, so I go to nudge her and I turn her over and she has this stare and at this point she’s not moving or breathing.
“I called 911, the US emergency number, and they got me to check if she was breathing and if she has a pulse, but from what I recall she had neither. It was most likely she died as soon as she hit the ground.”
Hannah and her mother, who had rushed home from her teaching job, both tried CPR before an ambulance took Lona to hospital where she died.
“None of us even contemplated the idea that she had passed away. We didn’t realise it could have been associated with HCM. It was so shocking,” Hannah said.
“Losing Lona was never an outcome anyone expected.”
Hannah was born in the UK but grew up in Atlanta with Lona and their Peruvian mother Dolores, 73, and English father Philip, 75, who worked as a chemical engineer. He has heart failure and has previously suffered two heart attacks.
Her older brother Ivan, 53, and sister Judy, 51, are based in the UK.
“Lona was an absolute ray of sunshine. She was so popular in school. Everyone loved her and she was so generous and sweet,” said Hannah.
“She loved to sing, and was such an amazing singer. Her dream was to audition for American Idol.”
The solicitor, who specialises in clinical negligence and employment, added: “I think all the time about the memories and the life Lona has missed out on.”
Hannah, who started running during the Covid-19 pandemic, is raising money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the TCS London Marathon’s charity of the year, which has helped her sister Judy, who lives in Leeds.
“This is the charity closest to my heart, it’s touched my family’s lives,” said Hannah, who tested negative for HCM.
“Sometimes on a run I think about why I’m doing it, and whenever I need inspiration, I think that I am running for people who can’t run. I feel privileged that I can.”
The BHF hopes to raise more than £3 million for regenerative medicine, a cutting-edge field of research which could unlock a cure for heart failure, from the London Marathon on October 2.
Hannah also completed the Berlin Marathon on Sunday after getting a place in the ballot.
– To sponsor Hannah visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hannah-halden