Flint mom Renee Walker, 37, can't remember a time when she wasn't a heart patient.
“My strong faith in Christ is what got me through,” she said. “I also have a huge support system … I'm very blessed.”
Ms. Walker was among roughly 300 shivering participants in Saturday's Tyler Heart Walk, sponsored by the American Heart Association.
The seven-year event participant, selected as the Heart Walk's 2012 Survivor, expressed gratitude for the support the organization receives from the community.
“Life is so busy,” she said. “For people to take time out to help in this is huge. Everyone knows someone affected by heart disease.”
The American Heart Association is the largest voluntary health organization working to prevent, treat and defeat heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, records show.
The diseases may not be in the forefront of public consciousness, but the conditions claim more than 865,000 American lives annually, organizers said.
“Everyone is out here for a special reason,” Brandi Banda, American Heart Association marketing director, said. “All the money raised here stays here in Tyler. This (Tyler) is one of the lucky communities.”
“I see the problems every day,” said Leticia Hernandez, a Tyler nurse who works for Cardiovascular Associates of East Texas, an event sponsor. “I wanted to be here today to help people who can't afford it (treatment).”
Ms. Hernandez brought her parents and 4-year old son for company.
Taylor Green, of Tyler, an employee of Bailes and Co. accounting firm, brought her oversized best friend Missy, a 120-pound Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, to join in the fun.
“She's not full grown yet,” Ms. Green said, adjusting the dog's hot pink bandana. “I brought her here last year, and there were two little babies with heart conditions. She was so good with them, they were all over her … I was really proud of her.”
Busy mom Courtenay Gunnels of Grand Saline brought her 19-month-old twin boys, Ty and Gage, to the occasion.
Ty's tiny strawberry-sized heart had a nickel-sized hole, she said, but doctors were able to patch it so he can live a long and happy life.
“It's so touching that so many people are out here today supporting this cause,” Ms. Gunnels said as the toddlers tossed playthings out of the stroller. “We had no heart issues in our family before this, and it's been amazing to see what doctors and technology are able to do.”
Proud grandmother Melinda Fowler, a retired teacher from Van, said she didn't mind picking up after the boys. “We are truly so blessed … we're glad they can do this … it's wonderful,” she said.
“We came out to help out and get a little exercise,” he said.
“I got off work at 5 (a.m.),” she said, munching on a breakfast sandwich. “There are several more teams here from the hospital. Anytime people can get out and do something to get their heart going, it's a good thing.”
Sponsors of the event include Subway, Jenny Craig, Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, Trane Company, Bancorp South, East Texas Medical Center, Fit City Challenge, Signal Heart Center, Southside Bank, Texas Bank and Trust and Tyler Junior College.
Sissy Redfern, of Lindale, was among 16 members of her family to sign up for the walk. An employee of Tyler Cardiovascular Consultants, another sponsor, Ms. Redfern said her parents both had heart problems and she's very aware of the dangers.
Her new daughter-in-law, Kayla, a Tyler nurse, who works in pain management for CareFirst, agreed, saying she wants to ward off heart issues before they start.
“I'm always conscious about what I do,” she said. “I enjoy walking and staying in shape … it's really important.”
Updated Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 4:12 p.m. CDT