A student who had “terrifying” open heart surgery to avoid a fatal rupture is preparing for his longest swim yet.

Freddie Beard, of Hornchurch, had to have open heart surgery in 2016 to stop the main valve rupturing and killing him.

Seven years on, and despite still needing medication to slow his heart rate, the 27-year-old is undertaking his biggest physical challenge next Saturday (September 16), a six-mile swim in Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.

His father Jason described how Freddie's family discovered in 2013 that he suffered with Marfans Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause heart defects.

Three years later he had an operation at Barts Hospital in Newham.

“It was terrifying,” Jason said. “It was very scary because he was in intensive care and when he went into the operation for about four to five hours, we came back and we could see wires coming out.

"It [the surgery] really did knock his confidence for a while due to his age," he added. "When he came round in the ward everyone was pensioners."

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Freddie, who will be on medication for the rest of his life, was told by doctors that he might not be able to partake in contact sport, but his father insisted he continue water polo.

“We didn’t want to take that away from him,” Jason said. “I just wanted him to get back to some sort of normality.”

Now a healthcare professional, Freddie, who graduated in 2018 with a distinction in Law, said having the surgery was a very scary period.

“It is nerve-wracking,” he said. “Going from studying to being in a hospital bed.

“Not many people will hopefully have the chance to experience their ribcage being pulled apart.”

In 2013, a junior doctor on placement diagnosed Freddie by chance, recognising that he had a protruding ribcage, a condition called pigeon chest, which he had studied.

“Without that junior doctor being there, who knows I might not have had this [lifesaving] surgery,” he said.

Freddie said he wished he had taken a note of the junior doctor’s name, without whom he may not be alive today.

Just a month after he had been discharged, Freddie had to return to revision lectures, coursework and exams at Surrey Guildford University.

The former water polo president said it was especially galling to sit from the sidelines during crucial games.

Romford Recorder: Freddie said that his recovery was mentally toughFreddie said that his recovery was mentally tough (Image: Jason Beard)

“I couldn’t help my team so that was hard to take,” he said. “I thought someone else is going to have to take that shot for me - I wish I could be back out there again.”

Six months after his surgery in 2016, Freddie returned to water polo.

But in 2017 part of his femur cracked off, preventing him from extending his knee.

This setback threatened to end his university water polo career for good, just months before he was due to graduate in 2018.

But Freddie came back three months after his second surgery to finish his water polo season, and is set to compete in his greatest physical challenge to date to raise money for Marfan Trust.

“Swimming more of less saved my life,” he said. “Even with the condition, you can live as normal a life as possible – I’d like to prove that through this swim.”

To support Freddie and Marfan Trust, donate here.