Heart Walk May 22 at RVC

Every year, heart disease and stroke claim hundreds of thousands of American lives, making the disease the leading cause of death in the U.S. The lucky ones survive, including Rockford-area resident Terry Heller. However, Heller knows firsthand the devastation heart disease causes a family.

Heller’s wife, Debbie, died two years ago from a massive heart attack. Heller is walking with thousands of other Rockford-area residents in the Rockford Heart Walk to fight the nation’s leading killers—heart disease and stroke.

This year’s Heart Walk, which is presented nationally by NutriSoy and Subway, is Saturday, May 22, at Rock Valley College.

Many of the walkers, like Heller, are heart disease and stroke survivors and will be easily recognized with red caps, showing they’re fighting back against their disease. In addition to survivors, many participants walk in honor or memory of a friend or family member who has been afflicted by heart disease or stroke.

“It is so encouraging to see the thousands of people from our community participate in raising money for research and education,” Heller said. “We are all helping to save lives.”

Heller, a team captain for one of OSF St. Anthony’s teams for the 2004 Rockford Heart Walk, deals with the death of his wife every day, and his own experience with heart disease. Two years ago, Heller and his wife, Debbie, were preparing for a relaxing Labor Day weekend when his wife suffered a massive heart attack and died. Debbie, who had just woken up, didn’t complain of any symptoms, Heller saids.

“I remember walking into the bedroom and noticing that Debbie had gone back to sleep,” Heller said. “I tried to wake her up, but she wasn’t responding, so I immediately checked for a pulse and couldn’t find one. I started chest compressions and rescue breathing and called for emergency help, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to save her.”

In January 2004, Heller had his own experience with heart disease during a quiet night with family. As he was making dinner, Heller felt pain in his chest, but didn’t think it was anything to worry about. A few minutes later, the pain had moved down his arm and into his back and jaw.

Heller still wasn’t concerned and waited for the pain to subside. It didn’t, and he had started to sweat profusely and was short of breath. Family members called 9-1-1, and Heller was transferred to the hospital, and his condition was stabilized. During the hospital stay, Heller continued to experience the pain, and tests indicated that he would need a stent inserted.

Heller continues to live a normal life, and is more vigilant about eating heart-healthy.

“Everyone needs to take control of evaluating their lifestyle,” Heller said. “Only the good Lord knows when he’s going to take someone, we don’t. It’s up to us to live life to its fullest, and healthfully.”

Now in its 11th year, the American Heart Walk, a national American Heart Association event, has raised more than $362 million. This year, more than 750,000 walkers will participate in more than 600 locations across the U.S. Funds raised from the American Heart Walk will support heart and stroke research and education programs. Research funded by the American Heart Association has yielded important discoveries such as CPR, life-extending drugs, pacemakers, bypass surgery and surgical techniques to repair heart defects.

Survivors will be joined by participants of all ages for the three-mile walk. Many local supporters, including OSF St. Anthony Medical Center, SwedishAmerican Health Systems, AMCORE Bank, Alpine/Belvidere Bank, UPS, Belvidere School District 100, City of Rockford including Mayor Doug Scott, Rockford Cardiology, Rockford Surgical Services, Stillman BancCorp, N.A. and Winnebago County Health Department are promoting employee health and wellness, as well as camaraderie, by organizing company walking teams. Company teams are the backbone to the fund-raising success of the American Heart Walk.

For information on how to participate, call the American Heart Association at 815-397-6112, or visit walk.americanheart.org.

The American Heart Association spent about $389 million in fiscal year 2001-2002 on research, support, public and professional education, and community programs. The organization has grown to include more than 22.5 million volunteers and supporters who carry out its mission in communities across the country. The association is the largest voluntary health organization fighting heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, which annually kill about 950,000 Americans.

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