A battling dad-of-two completed a 133-mile charity cycle ride – despite suffering a massive HEART ATTACK mid-way through the course.
Don Stark, 59, began feeling shortness of breath and tightness in his chest 40 miles into the gruelling two-day trek but put it down to his age and carried on.
Incredibly, he cycled the remaining 93 miles from Whitehaven, in Cumbria to Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, on June 13 and finished 5th out of 16 competitors.
It was only after he was being checked over by medics at the finishing line that he was told he should go to hospital.
He agreed after his wife Vyonne, 50, a primary teacher, begged him to go for a check-up the next day.
Don, from North Kelsey, Lincs., is now in Scunthorpe General Hospital where he is waiting for a triple heart bypass operation.
Speaking from his hospital bed, Don, a draughtsman, said: “My eyes really wanted to close and I had to fight to keep them open while I was riding round the course but I just thought it was because I’m getting on a bit.
“I started feeling rough near Penrith. It came on in degrees and I felt weaker than a puppy. The route had been mainly flat up to that point but then we came to steeper hills.
“I knew something was wrong because I’m normally the first one up the hills but this time I was last. I was breathing heavily and holding the handle bars hard.
“I didn’t know I’d had a heart attack. I didn’t stop because I was determined to complete the course for my charity.
“It was strange because when I had the heart attack I was riding past a hospital so it should have been a clue really.
“Seven of the 14 cyclists gave up along the way because it was bitterly cold. It was four degree weather and there was a strong headwind and the rain felt like bullets.
“When we arrived at our accommodation in Alston I felt like death warmed up and I was in two minds about whether to start again the following day.
“People at the race were really concerned for me but I was determined to finish so I carried on and agreed to go to see the doctor the next day.
“When I finished the race the medics again told me I should get checked out properly but I didn’t really see the point.
“Yvonne persuaded me to see my doctor who sent me to hospital immediately.
“The doctors told me the reason for my heart attack were genetic.
“The arteries in my heart were 70 per cent blocked, which would explain why I’ve struggled to increase my fitness despite all the cycling I do.
“It probably saved my life having the heart attack now while I’m healthy. The doctors said the hill climbs brought it on.
“I feel foolish because I’ve brought it on myself but I feel fortunate to have survived and incredibly grateful to the health service and my wife and friends for urging me to go to the hospital. If this happened in another country I probably wouldn’t have made it.
“The doctors say I suffered the heart attack because I exercise too much.
“I’m determined to get back on my bike after my operation and my fundraising.
“The charity does such good work. I’ve seen first-hand what a difference it makes to children’s lives. I’m their main fundraiser, they rely on my cycle rides.”
Over the past three years Don has raised £30,000 for Way of Hope, a charity raising money for orphans in Hungary and Romania.
Don’s daughter Hattie, 21, a medical student, said: “My dad didn’t know he’d had a heart attack and he doesn’t want to be seen to be a hero, battling on in spite of a heart attack.
“We have a family history of heart conditions in the family but doctors haven’t explained why he had a heart attack.
“He doesn’t smoke, he eats healthily and he’s not a huge drinker. He’s done loads of cycling and he planned to do two more 100-mile rides in August.
“The main thing he cares about is the charity because he’s witnessed how poor the children in those countries are and he wants to help.
“The family was completely shocked when we found out what had happened. He’s the last person you would expect to have a heart attack.
“The other riders noticed he was looking a bit rough after the race. My mum had been saying he needed to see a doctor and she got the others to encourage him to go the next day.
“The concern is the risk of him having another heart attack. We just want him to have the surgery so he can get better. We don’t know when he will get the surgery but we hope it will be within the next week.
“He’s doing better now, he’s able to move around the ward and he’s very chirpy.
“This won’t stop him. He will get back up and keep trying.”