Staying several steps ahead of the rain Saturday afternoon, some Clevelanders took part in an awareness and fundraising walk for the American Heart Association.
The Cleveland Heart Walk began near the new pavilion being constructed on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway near Raider Drive. Heart disease survivors, family members, friends and other community members gathered to share, celebrate and learn.
As participants arrived, they had the opportunity to visit a variety of exhibitors promoting awareness of heart-related issues, including SkyRidge Medical Center and Bradley County EMS.
Paper hearts were attached to a “memory wall” to let walkers share dedicate space “in honor of” or “in memory of” someone special. Many of those walking also elected to wear stickers on the backs of their shirts that included the names of those friends or loved ones.
While the event was primarily a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, organizers and volunteers stressed the need to raise awareness of heart-related issues.
Coleman Foss, chief executive officer of SkyRidge Medical Center, addressed the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, eating well and exercising regularly to prevent heart disease.
“If we can be as proactive as we can ... we can build a more heart-healthy community,” Foss said.
Representatives from SkyRidge handed out literature to educate people on how to recognize if they are having a heart attack.
The “early symptoms” include: nausea, feeling of fullness, pain that travels down one or both arms, jaw pain, fatigue, anxiety, chest pressure, squeezing or discomfort, back pain and shortness of breath.
Foss said everyone has different heart attack symptoms, but people should know which symptoms could signal heart trouble and seek medical help, if they feel something is not right.
Stan Clark of Bradley County EMS stressed the importance of calling 911 if they believe they may be having a heart attack.
He said there have been cases of individuals, who were having heart attacks, trying to drive themselves to the hospital. They lost consciousness and caused car accidents.
“We want people to call 911,” he said. “Stay alive. Don’t drive.”
Dr. Steve Wolf, a local OB-GYN, shared the importance of heart disease awareness and how heart disease had impacted his family.
As a doctor who works with pregnant mothers, he said he often stressed the importance of healthy eating and exercise.
Wolf supports the American Heart Association’s mission to promote heart-related medical advances, because heart-related issues are a leading cause of death among newborn babies.
He said his own daughter dealt with heart disease as a little girl and at one point was only given six months to live.
Wolf’s daughter, Carrie McConnell, then told her story. At the age of 7, she was diagnosed with a condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy that required her to receive a heart transplant. She had the transplant at the age of 8.
Seventeen years later, at the age of 25, she is now doing her part to raise awareness about heart disease.
She said she was grateful to all who attended the event to show their support for the American Heart Association’s efforts to promote advances in heart-related medical care.
“I am here today because of life-saving care,” McConnell said. “We can continue to save lives.”
Those individuals with red hats participated in the “red hat ceremony,” which is customary at American Heart Association events.
“We gather here to celebrate life,” Wolf said before instructing the survivors to raise their hats in the air and let out a cheer.
The survivors removed their hats again for a moment of silence in memory of those who did not survive heart disease.
Heart attack survivor and event volunteer Rodney Urban said he noticed something was wrong with his heart while working at the Bowater plant in Charleston.
He said credited the close proximity to the nurse’s station at the plant and the quick actions of first responders with his survival.
Urban was airlifted to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, where he underwent heart surgery with three bypasses. Now back on his feet, Urban attends cardiac rehabilitation sessions at SkyRidge Medical Center five days a week.
Urban said he decided to be part of the Cleveland Heart Walk because he wanted to raise awareness about heart disease so people know to get help if they begin having symptoms of a heart attack.
Survivor Byron Clark, who has dealt with both cancer and a cardiac condition called aortic dissection, said he wanted people to know it is important for them to eat well and exercise to do what they can to stay prevent heart problems.
“Take care of yourself,” he said.
After the “red hat ceremony,” SkyRidge officials also recognized some of their patients who had survived and changed their health habits by giving them “Lifestyle Change Awards.”
After a stretching warm-up, the walk itself began, with participants taking a route on the Greenway that totaled 2.5 miles.
Another Heart Walk is set to take place in Chattanooga in November.
For more information, visit www.heartwalk.org.