By Alyce Collins
AFTER four open-heart operations and even clinically dying in two of them, this British woman born with three holes in her heart has defied the doctors who thought she wouldn’t survive to live a full life and now competes as a professional bodybuilder.
Acupuncturist, Samantha Gallier (27), who grew up on the Isle of Wight, was just ten days old when doctors diagnosed her with having congenital heart defects that weren’t picked up when she was first born.
Sammi was born with three holes in her heart, narrowing of the aorta, narrowing of the pulmonary vein and a faulty valve. These issues weren’t noticed until a baby Sammi collapsed in her mother’s arms ten days after her birth.
During two of her operations, Sammi was clinically dead for two minutes each time, and had to be defibrillated back to life both times.
Sammi’s childhood was marred by surgeries and hospital appointments which frequently took Sammi out of school and stopped her from having the experiences her peers got to have. Her heart defects also prevented Sammi from taking part in any sports at school out of fear for her health.
Now in a far improved state of health, Sammi has been weight training and bodybuilding for the last five years, after her loving husband, Tom, encouraged her to give it a try.
“I have had four open heart surgeries in my life and I’ve died twice” Sammi explained.
“I have had numerous bouts of pleurisy, pneumonia, septicaemia and heart failure. I was Christened in the hospital before one of my operations as they didn’t think I’d make it.
“When I had my last operation at twelve years old it was hard to take, and I remember not wanting to look at my scar. That’s already a really hard time in a girl’s life and then add in a health condition which limits how you live your life.”
Having congenital heart defects has always restricted Sammi’s lifestyle, but once she found bodybuilding she was finally able to embrace her passion and got to share experiences with the most elite in the sport.
“I have always been a very slim girl and dreamed of putting on weight but was trying to do it the wrong way,” she said.
“I used to be on the border of having high blood pressure and there were talks of me being put back on medication for life.
“But since I started going to the gym, even my cardiac consultants were so impressed with how healthy I am and how well my heart is doing.
“The biggest health benefit I have had is my fitness levels have improved and my blood pressure has stabilised.”
Sammi is aware of the risks involved in pushing herself too hard and she respects her body’s limits, as well as understanding that every person with a heart defect will face different limits themselves. She tries to work out four to five times a week, but doctors put a cap on how much she can lift as they weren’t happy with her lifting 70kg.
“The risks for me are getting my heart rate above 155 beats per minute or getting my blood pressure too high because of the scar tissue on my aortic arch which I can’t put pressure on,” she added.
If Sammi’s heart rate was to go over 155 beats per minute she would risk rupturing the scarring on her aortic arch, requiring further surgery to close this up again.
“I avoid going over my limits by not doing one rep lifts and not straining or holding my breath while lifting.
“I keep check of my heart rate with a heart rate monitor while I work out.”
“When I told my consultant I was lifting 70kg he was not happy. He limited my weights to just 5kg.
“Being limited in the gym was extremely hard to take in, so I had numerous tests with my cardiac team and they updated my weight limit to 30kg.”
Despite the odds being against her, Sammi competed in a bodybuilding competition in 2017 alongside countless others who could never imagine going through what Sammi had to.
“My goals now are to build some more muscle and compete again. I have had people doubt me, but I just prove them wrong,” she said.
“People who know me know that it would take a lot for me to stop living my life.”
Although not being sure of it, Sammi’s doctors are hopeful that she won’t need any more open-heart operations in her life so she is free to continue competing while inspiring and motivating others.
You can check out Sammi’s fitness transformation on her Instagram page @the_hearty_lifter_fitness.
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