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Racing heartbeat leads to shock diagnosis

Two years after heart surgery Celeste Esera has conquered her biggest and scariest goal yet.

The 37-year-old West Aucklander has coped with atrial fibrillation, a hole in her heart, open-heart surgery, and more heart-break after her daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition.

But despite all of this, Celeste has just competed with world-class athletes in the 2019 Crossfit Teams National Championship in Cambridge.

"The people you compete with and against, are a mix of all kinds, but at a National level you're fighting for the title of New Zealand's fittest. There are lots of extremely fit people! Some of the top athletes have been competing overseas. They're quite beasty," she says.

When Celeste was just 18 she was rushed to Middlemore Hospital with her heart racing at more than 220 beats per minute. From there, the doctors also discovered a hole in her heart.

"I was born with a hole in my heart, and a condition called Wolf Parkinson White syndrome. At 19 I underwent a procedure for the syndrome and two days later open-heart surgery to close the hole in my heart.

In more recent years, I have had rhythm problems, a condition called atrial fibrillation, and have had three heart procedures to attempt fixing it, the most recent being October two years ago."

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm, which can result in an increased risk of stroke for some. That’s why it's important to check your pulse for any irregularities and seek treatment as Celeste has done.

Celeste's baby daughter, Ava, was also diagnosed with Wolf Parkinson White syndrome resulting in her own surgery.

"When Ava was diagnosed with the same syndrome my heart broke then and there. The guilt flooded my every inch – no matter how many professionals comforted me with words of, 'This is not your fault, it is not hereditary,' These feelings are still so raw."

But fast forward to 2019 and Ava is fit and well and Celeste is showing her baby girl just how to take on life.

The Crossfit team of six from Waitakere placed 18 out of 23 teams in the recent competition. A result Celeste is proud but humble of.

"It was very full-on. The hardest part for me is dealing with the adrenaline. I always get into the competitive environment and forget where I’ve come from. Usually my husband or friends will have to remind me of how far I've come. It's not until the end of the competition that I’m reminded of my journey and what I’ve achieved," she says.

The team competition included a half-marathon, pull-ups, weight lighting and lifting a 100 kilogram sandbag called 'The Worm'.

But Celeste's determination shines through and she is grateful of the support she’s received to reach her goals.

"I am fighting a never-ending battle with heart disease. A disease which I was born with. A disease I would never wish on anyone.

"We are lucky New Zealand has the best cardiologists in the world and that the Heart Foundation funds research and specialist training for cardiologists. I was told if they hadn’t found the hole in my heart when they did, I would have only lived to 25.

"I am forever grateful for the work these amazing people do which, quite simply, is saving lives."

The Heart Foundation is offering people in 18 locations throughout New Zealand, the chance to get free pulse checks during the week of 18-24 November 2019, as part of its atrial fibrillation awareness campaign.

Learn how to check your pulse