Born with Tetralogy of Fallot, Now a Marathon Runner: Julia’s Story

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Julia works as a clinical exercise physiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). In her free time, she pursues her passion for running — training for and competing in marathons. As a child, Julia was also a cardiac patient at CHOP. She credits her athletic and career success to the care and encouragement she received.

Julia with her doctors Dr. Gaynor, Julia and Dr. Paridon (left to right) Julia was born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a combination of heart malformations that reduce the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood to the body. When Julia was a baby, William Gaynor, MD, performed her TOF repair.

All patients who have a TOF repair require long-term follow-up care to monitor heart health and circulation. Julia’s care was managed by Stephen Paridon, MD, an attending cardiologist and Director of the Cardiac Exercise Physiology Lab at CHOP (where Julia now works).

“Ever since I can remember,” Julia recalls, “Dr. Paridon encouraged me to live a normal, active life. He taught me that the benefits of an active lifestyle greatly outweigh any potential risk.” Julia started running cross-country in first grade. As an athlete with congenital heart disease, she was required to perform an exercise stress test every year. Through the years, the staff at the exercise lab continued to be impressed by her performance on the test.

“The encouragement I received at such a young age to stay active and run competitively set me up for great success,” Julia says. She continued running cross-country and track from the first grade all the way through college. She credits regular exercise and the opportunity to be part of a team with allowing her to lead a happy and healthy life.

It wasn’t all fun, though. “As a child, the exercise test was challenging and was not something I looked forward to,” Julia remembers. “But as I grew older, I learned to embrace the challenge and became very interested in what a cardiopulmonary exercise test really meant.”

This experience led to Julia’s career path as a clinical exercise physiologist. She interned in CHOP’s exercise lab and found the work to be a perfect blend of three passions: her love of exercise, her interest in health care and the chance to help children whose experiences were similar to her own. She followed in the footsteps of the exercise physiologists who administered her exercise tests when she was young (many of whom she now works with as a colleague), earning a bachelor's degree in exercise science and a master's degree in clinical exercise physiology.

Julia running the Philadelphia Marathon Julia running the Philadelphia Marathon Julia remains passionate about running. “Running has become a part of who I am,” she says.  She ran her first marathon in Philadelphia in 2019, finishing with a time that qualified her for the Boston Marathon. She successfully ran the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2022, improving upon her previous time. 

“This will be an experience that many runners only dream of,” Julia says, “and I am extremely appreciative of everyone who has gotten me here. I truly have no idea who I would be without the remarkable team at the Cardiac Center at CHOP. I am eternally grateful, and my wish is that my success story can offer hope and encouragement to kids and families who are struggling with a new cardiac diagnosis.”

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