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Stark Heart Walk goes virtual in 2020

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent

CANTON  the American Heart Association is embracing a new approach to keeping the Stark Heart Walk event on schedule by going virtual. On Oct. 15, Stark Heart Walk hosted by the American Heart Association participants will be encouraged to walk where they are and participate virtually on the Stark Heart Walk Facebook event page.

Instead of meeting in person, walkers will be in their own neighborhoods, the parks or at their homes. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic keeping people at home, the American Heart Association had to develop a new approach this year.

Participants of the annual Stark Heart Walk from past years.

"We are deeply concerned about the public health crisis facing our country," said American Heart Association Executive Director Tracy Behnke said in a news release. "Our organization’s top priority is the health and well-being of our community today and in the future. With that being said, our mission, to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, is more important now than ever. Millions of people are counting on us for science-based information, health resources, community programs and patient support.”

More than 120 million Americans have one or more cardiovascular conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. The American Heart Association is working to fast-track scientific projects to investigate the specific cardiovascular implications of COVID-19 and continue their mission-critical work. By participating and donating to the Stark Heart Walk, participants are supporting the lifesaving mission of the American Heart Association during this current public health crisis and beyond.

“While people are encouraged to walk when it fits their schedule on Oct. 15, will be hosting a virtual opening ceremony broadcast live on our Facebook page,” said communications director Jessica Doudrick. “The in-person heart walk is generally held mid-September but we moved it back a month hoping things would improved to the point we could hold the walk live.”

Doudrick added that last year was the biggest walk in the past several years with 2,000 people attending. One of the walkers who attended for the first-time last year was 56-year-old Ralph Lee.

Lee and his family were on vacation in Hilton Head and he was warming up for a game of pickle ball when felt a shortness of breath and just didn’t feel well. He got home from vacation on a Friday and was still feeling a shortness of breath. He was scheduled to do the Heart Walk the next day on a Saturday.

“I had a rough time with the heart walk,” Lee said. “I was hearing stories at the heart walk about the symptoms people felt before having a heart attack and I kept thinking that’s how I’m feeling. I went to a Browns football game the next day and again I had shortness of breath, I was sweating and then my left arm went numb when I was walking to my car.”

Lee was scheduled to see a doctor the next day and the first thing they did was give him some tests and they found he had several blockages around his heart. He had open heart surgery three days later.

Lee couldn’t believe it was happening to him. Today, he tries to talk to people to let them know how serious the symptoms are and that people should see a doctor immediately.

“This is a cause close to home and I want to do what I can to raise awareness of it and to teach people the right questions to ask. I’ve had other family members go through heart surgery this past year. It helps to have someone that’s been through it to help let you know what’s going to happen, it’s more reassuring to hear from someone who’s been through it then to hear it from a doctor sometimes,” Lee said.

Lee is a chief human resource officer for Kenan Advantage Group. He has always been active by “working out here and there” and he played college basketball and has been a referee for 22 years. Lee recommends the following to keep heart healthy: stay active, eat better, monitor your heart and pay attention to your body.

He said that his symptoms included shortness of breath; tingling in his left arm, tightness in his chest (like an elephant was sitting on it); and “really bad cold sweats”.

Doudrick said holding the Heart Walk each year is a way to raise money needed for research but its also a good way to build awareness of symptoms and warning signs of heart problems and to learn ways to keep heart healthy.

“We have many survivors come to the heart walk every year. Typically, they wear a ballcap at the in-person walk. This year we are holding a number of special activities broadcast live from 5:30 to 7:30 on Oct. 15 and one of those is to celebrate our survivors by posting photos of the survivors on our Facebook page. Plus, we will be playing a tribute video of photos submitted to us by loved ones of people who have passed away from heart disease or stroke,” Doudrick said.   

Other virtual activities planned include celebrating top companies who have donated and celebrating top walkers and a Top Dog post where people can take photos of themselves walking with their dogs or just a photo of their dogs and submitting to the American Heart Association for posting on the Facebook page.

The goal this year is to raise $225,000. Doudrick said that when they reach the goal, they plan to donate 350 blood pressure cuffs to the community.

This year’s focused message includes Life’s Simple ,  including the seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes including:

• Managing blood pressure

• Control cholesterol

• Get active by doing cardio and physical activity at home and keeping kids moving and staying physically active

• Rethink your drink and stop drinking the sugaring drinks and drink more water

• Eating healthy by preparing healthy meals at home and losing weight

• Stop stress and stop smoking

• Learning hands only CPR and only use your hands for chest compressions instead of doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

Tips for each of the seven items will played on the Facebook page leading up to the virtual walk date.

The Stark Heart Walk is sponsored locally by Altercare Integrated Health Services and Absolute Health Services.

To register, visit www.heart.org/starkheartwalk. From there, participants can stay up to date by downloading the Heart Walk mobile app and encourage friends and family to join in via e-mail or on social media. For more information contact Jenn Fortney at Jenn.Fortney@heart.org or 330.495.3860.

Participants of the annual Stark Heart Walk from past years.

More about the Stark Heart Walk 2020

During the event on Oct. 15th, everyone is encouraged to post pictures and videos to document their activity using #StarkHeartWalk and #WalkWhereYouAre. Here are a few fun activities to consider choosing from:

• Take a walk outside (while following current social distancing guidelines).

• Get the whole family involved and have an indoor dance party.

• Try out a few strengthening exercises like push-ups, lunges and squats.

• Create an at home circuit workout.