The unexpected loss of a loved one and the understanding that life is fragile is propelling two women to run a charity half marathon.

Celine Dufour and Katherine Campbell-Hunt were bound by tragedy in 2008 when Dufour's brother and Campbell-Hunt's boyfriend, Jean-Philippe (JP) Dufour, died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition when he was just 17.

The teenager had been playing football in his hometown of Dunedin when he told a friend he was getting a "weird" chest pain, before collapsing.

Attempts to resuscitate him pitchside, and in hospital, were unsuccessful.

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An autopsy revealed he had cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart muscle which weakens the heart and can cause heart failure.

Recalling doctors trying to save her younger brother, which came just 18 months after the pair's father died suddenly from a heart attack, Dufour says she's learned to treasure life.

She began running as a way to clear her head.

"I definitely learned to appreciate family more, and the small things in life," she says.

"JP really stepped up when my dad passed away, even though he was the youngest. He was the stronghold of the family."

Jean Philippe Dufour died suddenly in 2008 from a heart condition. Photo / Supplied
Jean Philippe Dufour died suddenly in 2008 from a heart condition. Photo / Supplied

Katherine Campbell-Hunt met "kind and charismatic" JP at high school and the pair were friends before becoming a couple.

"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," she says.

Unfortunately tragedy didn't end there.

Just four months after Dufour's death, Campbell-Hunt's mother Diane, a leader in her field of ecology and botany, tragically died on a tramping trip in Egmont National Park, after being swept away while trying to cross a swollen stream.

Campbell-Hunt witnessed the tragedy and says the two deaths made her aware of how fragile life is.

"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," Campbell-Hunt says.

Dufour and Campbell-Hunt are coming together in October to run the ASB Auckland half marathon for the Heart Foundation, to raise funds for heart research.

JP Dufour was otherwise healthy, and his sister says had his heart condition been diagnosed he could still be alive today.

Celine Dufour is running a Heart Foundation charity half-marathon in memory of her brother Jean-Philippe who died suddenly when he was 17 from an undiagnosed heart condition.
Celine Dufour is running a Heart Foundation charity half-marathon in memory of her brother Jean-Philippe who died suddenly when he was 17 from an undiagnosed heart condition.

Cardiomyopathy is hereditary and Celine Dufour says a close relative had been diagnosed with the same condition and had a successful heart transplant.

Although JP had visited a doctor just a day before his death complaining of a stomach ache and extreme fatigue, it was deemed to be viral and he was sent home.

"Finding out that it can be hereditary and that it can be diagnosed and potentially preventable, left us feeling frustrated and disappointed," Celine Dufour says.

"I guess the point of sharing this story is to help prevent other families going through the same thing. It's important that if you're starting to feel anything out of the ordinary, like chest pains, or even a stomach ache- which was the initial trigger for [JP]- talk to a family member or a health professional.

"Being a donor is also highly valued [by] other families."

Runners can sign up for the marathon, held on October 29 in Auckland, by emailing events@heartfoundation.org.nz. Funds raised will go to heart research and supporting people with heart disease.

Donations can be made to Katherine and Celine's fundraiser online.

What is cardiomyopathy?

Dr Fraser Hamilton from the Heart Foundation 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.