NEWPORT County AFC legend Mark O’Brien, who was forced to retire due to a heart condition in June 2020, is calling on anyone considering taking part in October’s Cardiff Half Marathon to support the British Heart Foundation.
County's former captain, Mr O’Brien, 29, first became aware of his heart condition aged 16, when a routine scan for academy players at Derby County revealed a heart value problem.
Following a heart valve replacement operation in 2009, Mr O’Brien enjoyed a successful career at Derby and Luton Town before joining Newport County in 2017, where he earned legend status for scoring the last minute goal in the last game of the 2018 season to keep the team in the football league in what has been dubbed 'The Great Escape'.
His early retirement was due to the need for further surgery.
Since recovering from his second heart procedure, Mr O’Brien has returned to Rodney Parade, which he says feels like a home from home, in a player support role for team-mates.
Mark O'Brien recovering after heart surgery in 2020
Mr O’Brien said: “My football career being cut short because of my heart condition was challenging, and I’ve gone through some tough times, mentally as well as physically. There have been dark days, as I’ve had to come to terms with my life after being a professional football career.
“I had to do a lot of thinking about who I am, if I’m not a footballer. And that’s been harder for me than overcoming the physical challenges of my heart surgery. The anxiety about my health and living with a heart condition, it’s all tough, but it’s made me stronger as a person, and that’s why I’m determined to do all I can to support people, share my story and hopefully help other people deal with their challenges too.”
Mr O’Brien experienced panic attacks and anxiety as he recovered from his second surgery and encourages anyone struggling with their physical or mental health to reach out for support.
Mr O’Brien said: “It’s amazing to think that in Welsh universities, and across the UK, pioneering BHF-funded researchers are working on the treatments and cures of the future, for heart conditions that affect every community. None if this is possible without the support of the public, and I can’t wait to cheer on everyone who’s taking part in the brilliant Cardiff Half for the BHF.”
BHF area fundraising manager for Wales and Northern Ireland, Nikki James, said: “We are so grateful that Mark is supporting our fabulous fundraisers atthe Cardiff Half.
"He’s living proof of the lifesaving power of research into treating heart conditions and is a fantastic example of someone who’s overcoming the challenges he’s faced, with an inspirational outlook, and a determination to help others.”
To sign up for the Wizz Air Cardiff Half in support of BHF Cymru go to www.bhf.org.uk/how-you-can-help/events/runs/cardiff-half-marathon