She calls herself the "bionic woman" due to the titanium in her chest, but Helene Kay won't let her double heart valve replacement stop her from walking the Wellington half marathon this weekend, a year on from her surgery.

The Paraparaumu fitness instructor has so far raised nearly $4000 to donate to the Heart Foundation after the marathon, a figure higher than what any individual has raised for the 2017 event so far.

The 59-year-old has always led a fit and healthy life, so when she began feeling unwell a few years ago she put it down to taking longer to recover from exercise.

"I just had been feeling so unwell for so long," she said.

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Helene Kay will be walking the half marathon this weekend and fundraising for the Heart Foundation. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Helene Kay will be walking the half marathon this weekend and fundraising for the Heart Foundation. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Kay went through a few years of feeling fatigued, achy, and generally flu-like until she got an echo cardiogram, revealing she had rheumatic heart disease which had damaged her heart valves.

The cardiologist told her the damage was the result of an undiagnosed case of rheumatic fever, which neither Kay nor her mother ever remember her getting.

In April last year, Kay underwent double heart valve replacement surgery. Now, if someone was to stand close to her, they would be able to hear the mechanical valves ticking away, she said.

She jokes she is a bit like a "bionic woman".

When she was first diagnosed, Kay was "shocked" and "really angry".

"How could I have got this, I'm so fit? And of course, all those other emotions come into play," she said.

She suffered a sense of failure, and a little over a year on from the surgery, Kay said the mental health recovery has been difficult.

She felt "a little bit glum - even more than a little bit glum".

Her husband, Paul, calls her a "hero" for getting through her illness. "It's epic," he said.

Finishing's going to be fantastic because I feel like it's the beginning and the end of my rehabilitation.

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Kay got straight back into exercise as soon as she was able. She has been a fitness instructor for 25 years, and has run marathons in the past.

Her clients have been "really supportive", as well as her family and friends. She has five "heart heroes" who will be joining her in walking the 21km half marathon on Sunday.

She decided to register for the event to mark a year since her surgery.

"I saw that and I thought 'that's a good goal for me to build up towards' . . . I had been feeling the year would be some kind of 'let's move on now, you've had a year recovering, go for it.'

"Finishing's going to be fantastic because I feel like it's the beginning and the end of my rehabilitation."

The group aim to finish in under four and a half hours.

Kay also has her sights set on the Auckland half marathon in October.

When she decided to do this weekend's event, she chose to fundraise for the Heart Foundation, which she said was a "great organisation".

"They need every bit of sponsorship they can get."

Anyone wanting to donate to her cause can head to the Wellington Marathon website to find her page.