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County Durham dad who underwent major heart surgery holds epic runs for research

A County Durham dad who was left fighting for his life because of a dangerous heart condition has completed a challenge that saw him run almost 900 miles for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Darren Cutler, aged 44, has virtually covered the road distance between Land’s End and John o’ Groats in just over three months.Darren Cutler

The father of two was inspired to take on the challenge for the BHF after his personal battle with heart problems.

In 1999, Darren – who was 22 at the time – was rushed to hospital after becoming unwell. Medics discovered that Darren had septicaemia, and he spent three months in hospital.

Whilst receiving treatment, doctors detected a heart murmur – and after further tests, it was revealed that the septicaemia was the complication of a life-threatening heart condition that Darren didn’t know he had. The condition, a pseudoaneurysm, meant that blood from his heart was leaking into the muscle wall.

Darren was told he would need open heart surgery, where the affected part of his heart was repaired with a patch from a pig heart.

Between recovering from septicaemia and getting the news about his heart, Darren had passed fitness tests to join the police. He was determined to recover quickly from his heart surgery and get back to full strength, so took up running to help build up his fitness.

However, recovery wasn’t always plain sailing. Darren has since suffered two bouts of endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining that can be life-threatening.

Yet Darren, who works as a fitness instructor, has never let any setbacks stop him. In December 2019, Darren ran 13 miles side-by-side with Dr Michael Cave, the cardiologist who treated him, and raised over £1,000 for the BHF’s life saving research.

Darren has also seen the impact of heart conditions on his close family. His son, Aidan, was born prematurely in 2001 and medics discovered he had a congenital heart condition which required him to have surgery aged just two weeks old. Thanks to this surgery, Aidan is now able to live his life to the full.

Darren said: “My son and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the work of the fantastic cardiologists and surgeons, and the medical research that has made these surgeries possible.

“I like to prove that having heart disease isn’t a barrier to what you want to achieve, and I saw my latest challenge – known as the LEJOG 2021 virtual challenge – as a great way to push myself whilst raising money for a brilliant cause.

“I’ve been running five days a week since November and have had to endure all sorts of weather conditions, including shin high snow. I have a real aversion to running, so it was both a physical and psychological challenge.

“When I started the LEJOG challenge, I fully expected it to take 12 months. I was over the moon to cover the 874-mile distance within four months, and finish in a top 100 position.

“The generosity of family, friends, clients and total strangers who have donated to the BHF are what keeps me motivated to take on these challenges.”

And Darren won’t stop there – he plans to carry out a marathon on 21st March to wrap up his challenge.

Around 360,000 people are living with heart and circulatory diseases in the North East of England – and shockingly, every 70 minutes, someone in the region dies from these conditions.

The BHF funds life saving research into these conditions, including congenital heart diseases, stroke and vascular dementia, and their risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

However, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BHF’s funding for new research has halved this year alone.

Jodie Shepherd, Area Fundraising Manager at the BHF, said: “We are so grateful that Darren chose to take on this personal challenge in aid of the BHF’s life saving research.

“Our research to save and improve lives is funded entirely by the public, including the generous support of people like Darren. Due to the reduction in our income, this support has simply never been more needed.”

To donate to Darren’s fundraising challenge, visit

Anyone interested in fundraising for the BHF can contact Jodie Shepherd, BHF’s Area Fundraising Manager, by emailing [email protected]


For more information, contact Lee Kettle from the BHF’s Media Team on 07741 908365 or email [email protected]

About the British Heart Foundation

With donations from the public, the BHF funds ground-breaking research that will get us closer than ever to a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases. A world where broken hearts are mended, where millions more people survive a heart attack, where the number of people dying from or disabled by a stroke is slashed in half. A world where people affected by heart and circulatory diseases get the support they need. And a world of cures and treatments we can’t even imagine today. We are backing the best ideas, the brightest minds and the biggest ambitions – because that’s how we’ll beat heartbreak forever.

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