2012 Pittsburgh Heart Walk, a heart-healthy walk for a cause

By Lori Pometo
Point Park News Service
Danielle McKain became a full-time caregiver after her son was born with a congenital heart defect.

Heart disease claimed members of Celeste Hardie’s family making her adopt a healthier lifestyle, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

“My greatest fear is that heart disease will claim another family member…,” said Hardie in an e-mail.

These women will be helping to raise money and awareness for heart disease while walking in the Pittsburgh Heart Walk  Nov. 3.

Over 10,000 participants are expected to walk in next month’s Pittsburgh Heart Walk. Donations and money raised will go to the American Heart Association for research. Most of that money will be kept in large, because of the vast medical community in Pittsburgh. Heart disease and stroke are the number one and four killers of Americans, respectively.

At her 18-week check-up, McKain, 32, was told during a sonogram that her unborn son had a congenital heart defect, known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The McKain’s attend daily doctor’s appointments including speech, physical and occupational therapy.

“Jameson takes over 10 medications a day, two breathing treatments, uses oxygen and pulse ox machines while he sleeps,” said McKain in an e-mail.

Jameson spent the first year of his life in Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and has had five open heart surgeries. In August 2011, 11-month-old Jameson received a heart transplant.

She describes her son’s health as being, “a daily roller coaster” and a “constant struggle.” Every six weeks, Jameson needs a heart biopsy as well as blood work-up, an electrocardiogram (EKG) and echocardiogram (ECHO) every week.

“Although his heart transplant was the cure he needed he still has a long road ahead,” said McKain. “He is still a very curious, energetic two-year-old who adores his big brother Colin. He loves his ball pit, Honey Nut Cheerios and will watch an entire Steelers football game! It’s very rare to find Jameson without Mickey Mouse on his clothes and a hot wheels car in his hand.”

On Oct. 18, Jameson underwent his sixth open heart surgery to repair damages from his previous surgeries.

McKain has used her son’s illness as a way to reach out to others by founding her own non-profit organization Jameson’s Army. With over 700 members, Jameson’s Army spreads awareness of congenital heart defects and also does fundraisers to provide things like food and drinks to the families at the heart center at Children’s Hospital.

Hardie, 28, was living in Virginia, in September 2009, when her father suffered a fatal heart attack while cutting the grass.

“It was a day that will haunt me forever and one that I will, unfortunately, never forget,” Hardie said. “He was the best father anyone could ask for and it’s because of him that I fight.”

Her father’s passing inspired her to get involved with the American Heart Association and the 2011 Pittsburgh Heart Walk, but her grandfather surprisingly passed away from congestive heart failure only two months before she was supposed to walk.

Her mother, who also suffers from heart problems has an enlarged heart and a leaking valve, but had surgery this past April and is now symptom-free.

Hardie herself began to feel “flutters” in her chest and first saw her doctor right around the same time her mother had surgery. She was diagnosed with premature ventricular contractions, which she describes as, “extra, abnormal heartbeats” that produce an irregular rhythm.

“I was never a runner, but I knew I had to do something to keep my heart pumping,” said Hardie. “I downloaded the C25K app on my phone, which I highly recommend and started my weekly routine.”

Her advice for everyone is to go to the doctor.

“Trust me… the longer you put it off, it will be too late,” Hardie said.

Registration for the 2012 Pittsburgh Heart Walk is free and lasts from 8 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. with the walk beginning at 1 p.m.

There is no set date to sign up to walk, “9:59 am [Saturday morning] would be the cut off,” said Senior Heart Walk Director Mike Thompson.

Interested parties can go to www.heart.org/pittsburghwalk to sign up with a current team, create a new team or sing up as an individual.

According to Thomas pre-walk activities include, “Inflatable [jumpers] for kids, face painting sponsored through UPMC, blood pressure checks, group photos, rock climbing walls, information booths for healthy lifestyle and healthy choices to encourage healthy behavior and warm-ups with players from the Pittsburgh Power.”

The walk will begin and end at Heinz Field and continue along the North Shore and River Trails. Co-chairs John Stanik, former President and CEO of Calgon Carbon Corp., and Pirates General Manager Clint Hurdles will be there and will walk the 5k trail with their teams. There will also be a shorter route available, according to the Heart Walk website.

“I have watched my son fight with all he has to live every day he has been on this earth,” said McKain. “I am a mother and a caregiver to someone who needs me every minute of the day. He needs me as much as I need him. He has taught me to enjoy every single minute of life because nothing is guaranteed.”