ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – “I just feel like everyone deserves to live their life to the fullest,” says Ellie Wilhelm.

Despite a being diagnosed with a Congenital Heart Defect at 4-years-old, Wilhelm has done just that.

“And I think that what motivated me was the continued set backs,” Wilhelm says. “I said ‘Ok I keep getting knocked back down and I know I can do this.’ Had confidence in myself and just wanted to make sure that people going through the same things could see that you can keep doing it.”

The initial surgery patched three holes in her heart, then scar tissue developed into heart block which needed surgery to implant a pacemaker.

“I played basketball, volleyball, et cetera, and into college I actually did crew,” Wilhelm says. “And then I struggled a little bit with fear and things like that. But I kinda overcame that as an adult and started running.”

She has now completed 22 half-marathons and 3 full marathons. But not without some setbacks to compel her.

“Last month I did a half-marathon right after my battery change in November,” Wilhelm says. “And oh gosh it was slow and it was rough and painful but I know I’m not going to stay there permanently, I know that I am going to get better again.”

Wilhelm not only inspires other CHD survivors through her running, but also her work with the Children’s Heart Foundation of Missouri. Which has its own race on June 17th.

“I’m not the fastest runner out there and I’m not the slowest runner out there,” Wilhelm says. “But for me it’s more just the journey and finishing. And I just love meeting people in the running community, they are so welcoming and that’s what’s great about our 5K that’s coming up, it’s for everyone.”

Profits from the race will go towards CHD research and advanced treatments, like what has helped give Wilhelm the ability to keep running.

“I don’t think the generation before could have done that,” Wilhelm says. “And now there are a lot of kids who go through open heart surgery that don’t end up with heart block bc of advances. So I think it’s a really critical area and it’s underfunded.”

(TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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