Pole dancing could save my life! Tess was 17 when she was told to quit sports as it could kill her. But she's since found a way to say active and alive ...

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A student battling a life-threatening heart condition has turned to pole-dancing in a bid to stay fighting fit.

Tess, 23, from Essex, was 17 when she collapsed with chest pain and was diagnosed with a hole in her heart.

She was told that her heart was a ‘ticking time bomb’ and that sport was out of the question because any sudden movement could kill her.

But Tess has found that pole dancing is one form of exercise she can practise because the activity involves controlled movements which do not shock her heart.

The student claims that spinning around poles has actually strengthened the muscles around her heart and next year she is set to feature on billboards and posters across the UK as the face of the British Heart Foundation.

Tess said her new hobby helps her fight the serious health battle she is faced with every day.

She said: ‘I can’t run or jog or do most forms of exercise so I thought the best thing was for me to tone up.

‘I looked on the internet and found pole fitness looked like my best option. It’s a great hobby for me and I love it. I realised it was right for me straight away.

‘I have to sit out if I get too breathless but I manage two hours a week and it’s great exercise.

‘I hope I can keep it up in the future. I may look healthy on the outside, but I fight a serious health battle every day.’

Growing up, Tess suffered breathing difficulties which doctors put down to asthma as a result of inhaling volcanic ash as a child.

It wasn’t until she collapsed while studying for her A Levels and rushed to hospital that the seriousness of her condition emerged.

Her pulmonary hypertension is a result of Eisenmenger syndrome, a type of heart defect caused by a large hole between the two lower heart chambers.

It causes blood to circulate abnormally in the heart and return to the lungs instead of going to the rest of the body.

This dangerously increases blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries to a point where the heart struggles to keep up.

Tess said: ‘When I was told I just thought ‘I’m going to die’.

‘I fixated on the fact doctors told me I could die and I thought ‘oh god, what if I don’t even reach my 18th birthday.’

As well as sports, the talented musician was forced to give up playing the trumpet because it could be too strenuous.

She will be faced with a constant battle against breathlessness, fatigue, chest pain, feeling faint and dizzy and even leg swelling for the rest of her life.

But she has not let her condition hold her back and achieved As at college and went on to achieve a second class honours in music at Southampton University in 2012.

After a stint teaching music in the UK and Middle East, she is set to study music therapy in Cambridge.

She said: ‘Now I focus on the future, I don’t let it pull me back. Life goes on.

‘Not many people really know about the condition and it is about showing people that even if you have a heart condition you can still do things.’

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