Heart Walk: celebrating survivors and fighting for longer lives

Written by Amy Palser

When Renee Walker suffered a heart attack at age 56, she felt she had been doing everything right: She practiced a healthy, vegetarian diet and worked out regularly. In fact, she thought the pain she was feeling in her chest was a pulled muscle from lifting weights. After being discharged from the hospital, she was surprised at the level of shame and embarrassment she felt about the diagnosis.

“After having the heart attack, I really struggled to say, ‘I had a heart attack,’ ” said Renee, who is vice president of human resources for EmberHope Youthville adoption and foster care center. It was after sitting down with Angela Breer of American Heart Association — Kansas that Renee was able to get some emotional healing. “When I met Angela, she in some kind of way made it so much easier for me to say, ‘I had a heart attack.’ I credit her and the American Heart Association for creating this safe space for me to find my voice and talk about it.”

The organization’s multi-purpose role of support, education and research funding is what makes Renee and other heart patients proud to be part of AHA events like the upcoming Wichita Heart Walk & F.A.S.T. 5K. The annual walk helps raise money for research, but it also is a chance for heart patients and their families to celebrate their survivor stories.

This year’s walk on Saturday, June 13, will be a little different as it will be a virtual event. “We invite people to lace up their shoes and fundraise where they are,” Angela said. “We are still encouraging teams to sign up and rally the troops like they normally would.”

The Heart Walk and F.A.S.T. 5K event raises funds to save lives from the country’s No. 1 and No. 5 causes of death: heart disease and stroke. Eighty percent of cardiovascular diseases, which include stroke, may be prevented, Angela said. But AHA also supports patients with heart issues that are not preventable, like congenital heart defects.

James and Brittney Cuer of Wichita are one such family. When their twin boys, Hunter and Hudson, were born in 2018, Hudson had to undergo open heart surgery at 4 days old due to hypoplastic left heart syndrome. In March 2019 he underwent a second open heart surgery after which, Brittney said, Hudson really began to thrive. “He was eating great — he actually weighed more than Hunter at one point, which is amazing because heart babies are usually smaller.”

Last month, Hudson, now 18 months, spent time in the hospital after he unexpectedly coded during a routine heart catheter. Doctors revived him and placed him on a heart and lung bypass machine, and just days later he was doing well and returned home after a couple of weeks.

Brittney said that throughout Hudson’s journey, Angela and the AHA have been there to love and support the family. “AHA is awesome,” she said. “You don’t want to be part of the heart community, but once you are, you feel very loved and supported.”

The Cuers plan to participate in this year’s Heart Walk, just as they did last year. “I hope people participate in the walk to see what our warriors go through and to be able to celebrate them. It’s special to us to share those stories and see so many people supporting the heart community.”

Heart Walk and F.A.S.T. 5K

Saturday, June 13
Walk where you are!
Register and donate at WichitaHeartWalk.org
Check out the AHAKansas Facebook page and website for event updates and virtual activities happening on June 13.

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