PLATTSBURGH - Though several months away from the Plattsburgh Heart Walk, those behind the annual event are once again getting people thinking about heart health.
The American Heart Association recently hosted its Heart Walk Leadership Breakfast at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh Angell College Center, officially kicking off the effort behind the 2011 Plattsburgh Heart Walk. The breakfast, said AHA regional director Keri Mack, is a way the AHA gets community leaders excited about raising money and awareness for the October event.
"The breakfast is a kick-off leadership event for local businesses where we bring in companies and other organizations to discuss the American Heart Association and to give them information," explained Mack.
The breakfast is also an opportunity for attendees to learn first-hand about how the AHA has helped those with heart-related illnesses or afflictions, said Mack. This year, those at the event heard from Chad and Marla Garcia of Au Sable Forks, whose 18-month-old son, Luke, suffers from congenital mitral stenosis, a rare and very serious condition that can cause the heart to improperly function and even fail.
"Chad and Marla shared their story, which is very moving," said Mack.
When Luke was born, he began to show symptoms something was wrong with his health, said Mack. According to the Garcias, Luke suffered from pneumonia and was unable to gain weight, she continued.
"They didn't realize it was such a serious condition until they had taken him to the doctor and the doctor thought they heard a sound in his heart," said Mack.
The doctor thought it was a hole in his heart, so the Garcias took their son to a specialist in Burlington, Vt., and while there, received his diagnosis of having congenital mitral stenosis.
The treatment for Luke's condition is unlike how an adult would be treated, said Mack.
"If you were an adult and you had this condition, you'd actually have your valve replaced," she said. "But, with children, and their heart growing, they can't replace the valve. So, they may have to expand it a few times before it gets to the point where it can be replaced later in life."
The Garcias brought their son to Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass., where he underwent a procedure to have a balloon-like device inserted into the affected valve in his heart, expanding it to function properly.
"He's a little trooper," said Mack.
Though Luke's condition is considered rare, one out of every 10 babies with a heart defect has that heart condition. That's why research by organizations like the AHA is so important, said Mack.
"The research dollars we raise in our communities go into the things he had done himself - the surgeries, the medicines, things like that," said Mack. "The monies we raise in our communities help when families have these types of conditions."
That research goes beyond helping little ones like Luke, said Mack.
"One in every three adults suffers from some form of heart disease or stroke - those are huge numbers," said Mack, adding research for stints, which are used to treat other heart conditions, has also been funded through the AHA.
Heart-related illnesses are not only a health-related "epidemic," but also one that affects the economy, said Mack. Heart-related illnesses have been connected to approximately $226 billion in productivity losses reported by corporate America.
"So, behind just the health impact on families and people that have heart disease, there's a huge expense in the cost of treating heart disease and stroke, and it's expected to triple in the next 20 years," said Mack. "It's ongoing therapy for high blood pressure, cholesterol, coronary stints."
"It's a national health crisis, a national financial crisis," she added.
That's where the AHA comes in with Heart Walks held each year around the nation, said Mack. The Plattsburgh walk is "hugely important" in being part of that effort, she added, with this year's goal of raising $165,000.
It's a goal Mack believes is "very attainable."
"We've done it in the past," said Mack, who acknowledged the difficult economic times that have faced the nation in recent years. "The economy is what the economy is. We all struggle but the community is very giving and very generous."
This year's walk is slated for Saturday, Oct. 15, to again be held at the PARC Oval in Plattsburgh.
For more information, contact Mack at 335-8125 or by e-mail at keri.mack @heart.org. Details about the walk may also be found on-line at www.plattsburghheartwalk.org.