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Duo running for Heart Foundation in memory of teenage footballer

In June 2008, 17-year-old Otago teen Jean-Philippe (J-P) Dufour ran to the side line of his school football game and said to a friend, “Oh, I am getting chest pain, it’s weird.”

J-P died from cardiomyopathy in 2008

Then he suddenly passed out – attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

In October this year, J-P’s sister Celine Dufour and his girlfriend Katherine Campbell-Hunt will run the Auckland Half Marathon, raising funds for the Heart Foundation in his memory.

“It was so hard. Even though we were four years apart, we were really close,” says Nelson Marine Consultant Celine Dufour.

“It means a lot to do this in support of this cause, to bring the great things the Heart Foundation does to the attention of New Zealanders and raise awareness about heart disease. But crossing the finish line in J-P’s memory will be hard… actually, it will be really emotionally challenging.”

Celine saw a Heart Foundation ad encouraging people to sign up as Heart Racers for this year’s marathon. A couple of days later, she got a message from Auckland Architectural Graduate Katherine Campbell-Hunt, who became a close friend after J-P’s death, asking if she wanted to do the half marathon.

“I replied, ‘Well, funny you ask that because I just saw that the Heart Foundation want some runners to represent them,’ and we both signed up,” says Celine.

heart racers run auckland half marathon
Katherine and Celine will run the Auckland Half Marathon in honour of J-P

No history of heart disease

J-P had no history of heart trouble and appeared to be a normal, healthy teenager who Katherine describes as being a very kind, warm person with a charismatic, positive energy. She recalls that while he was mature for his age he also had a great sense of light-hearted fun.

He had been to the doctor a couple of times, the most recent visit the day before he died, complaining of stomach cramps and extreme fatigue but was told he had a virus and was sent home.

The autopsy revealed he had cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes the heart enlarged, thick or rigid, which can lead to heart failure.

Celine says she was frustrated to find out this condition can run in the family after J-P’s death, as another close family member was diagnosed with the same condition in 1999 and had a successful heart transplant.

helping raise awareness of cardiomyopathy
Crossing the finish line will be emotional for J-P's sister, Celine

Cardiomyopathy can be hereditary

“Finding out that it can be hereditary and that it can be diagnosed and potentially preventable, left us feeling frustrated and disappointed. I guess the point of sharing this story is to help prevent other families going through the same thing.”

Around this time, both of their families experienced other tragedies. Celine and J-P’s father unexpectedly died from heart failure the previous year in 2007.

 “J-P really ‘stepped up’ when my dad passed away, even though he was the youngest. He was the stronghold of the family.” she says.

“I coped with my dad’s passing through running – I ran a lot. It was how I could clear my head. When my little brother died it was different. It’s the support of friends and family, to this day, that has helped me through the tough times.”

Then in October 2008, Katherine’s mum, a 56-year-old leading botanist and ecologist, died in a tramping accident in Egmont National Park. 

Running in J-P's memory

Katherine and J-P met at high school in Dunedin and spent a couple of years as close friends before they became a couple. She says his death has affected her in some tough ways but has also changed her perspective.

“It has definitely made me more aware of how fragile life is and how quickly it can be gone. Then there is the other side, you don’t want to take anything, or anyone, for granted and you want to appreciate the time you have,” says Katherine

“Because we were so close in age, as I go through my phases of life like university, going on an OE, starting a job, if there is any big milestone it brings back the thought of him and how sad it is he is missing out on that stage of life.”

This is Katherine’s first half marathon, although she was inspired to do some 10km events while watching one of Celine’s many half and full marathons.

“I am very proud to be putting that effort in and fundraising for the Heart Foundation in honour of J-P. It is nice to acknowledge him in a way that will hopefully make a positive impact for people who suffer from the same thing and could help avoid deaths like his in the future.”

The duo will have plenty of side line support with Celine and J-P’s mum travelling up from Dunedin, and Celine’s partner will come with her from Nelson. Katherine’s dad is also coming from Dunedin and one of her sisters lives in Auckland.

J-P tragically died from cardimyopathy
J-P and Katherine at the school ball

What is cardiomyopathy?

Dr Fraser Hamilton says there are different types of cardiomyopathy and there are no solid statistics about how many people are affected.

The term cardiomyopathy is a general term referring to various heart diseases which affect the heart muscle, and can lead to sudden death.

"It can cause things like progressive weakening of the heart and heart failure or thickening of the muscle and stiffening of the heart," he says.

"Some people might have years of symptoms and others die suddenly. It is difficult to say how many people are affected, and the treatments are different according to the cause."

He advised that anyone with a change in their fitness, breathing, chest pains or palpitations should get checked by a doctor.