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Stacia Hill, who is originally from the USA and now lives in Cornwall, had no hiking experience before setting off with her nine-year-old Cockapoo, Ruby, on a massive challenge in memory of her late husband.

Robert Hill, who worked on Hollywood films and photographed Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, suffered an aortic dissection, a rare but life-threatening cardiovascular condition, in March 2016. Five months after his life-saving operation, he died.

Stacia and Ruby started their coastal walk in Mindhead, Somerset, mid-May and despite battling the elements, finished their five month walk in Poole, Dorset on Tuesday 19 September – global Aortic Dissection Awareness Day.

“We were married for 26 years”, said Stacia. “He was the kind of man who everyone just instantly liked: gentle, kind, and with the ability to make people feel good about themselves. Robert, Ruby and I were just inseparable.”

Aortic dissection is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta, the main artery in the body that carries blood from the heart to all organs. As the tear extends, blood many flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta, forcing the layers apart. This can lead to decreased blood flow to organs or even rupture of the aorta.

In many cases, aortic dissection is fatal but early diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the chance of survival. However, it can be difficult to diagnose and the symptoms can be very similar to those of a heart attack.

“Thank God the emergency department consultant recognised that Robert had suffered an aortic dissection so early”, Stacia adds. “Robert lived for another five months. That may not sound that much, but when you love someone so much, every moment with them is precious. Those five months were a gift to our family and I will always cherish the final months we had together.”

During this time Stacia also fell ill and was hospitalised with serious back pain and nerve damage to her leg. Stacia says, “Robert would keep me company and we would talk about our future plans, even if we both knew they may never happen.

“We talked so much about walking the southwest coast path of England. I was struggling to walk and his health was failing. Even then though, he would turn to me and tell me with a smile “never give up”.

“This walk has been an emotional challenge for both me and Ruby. We’ve had to come to terms with our loss as well as the physical challenge.”

Ruby with Robert, Stacia’s late husband

Thanks to the support from friends and family, Stacia and Ruby have raised over £2000 for Heart Research UK.

In some cases of aortic dissection, patients need emergency surgery to repair the aorta. This type of surgery is highly specialised so Heart Research UK has run several Masterclasses to help surgeons in the UK learn how to carry out lifesaving aortic surgery from leading experts. The charity’s supporters raised enough money to cover the entire cost of last year’s aortic surgery Masterclass and are well on the way to raising funds for another course later this year.

“Ruby and I would love to raise £3000 towards an aortic surgery Masterclass. I think Robert would have been humbled and honoured to know that he could make such a difference to the lives of others.

“I have never done anything like this before – and neither has Ruby! But it’s the very least we can do to thank the doctors and nurses who tried so hard to save him. Robert told me to follow my dreams and never give up. With the support and memory of loved ones, anything is possible.”

To support this duo, visit their fundraising page.

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