Saturday's 2011 Greater Wichita Start Heart Walk will be more than a walk across the Wichita State campus. It's a family event that teaches about healthy eating and exercise and provides health screenings, a chance to ask a physician questions, fun activities for kids and free healthy snacks and drinks, says Teri Mather of the American Heart Association in Wichita.
Walkers have the choice between a 1-mile or 5K walk across campus, starting and ending at Cessna Stadium.
The walk also is a way for people who have been affected by heart disease to raise money and show their support for research into the disease.
Here is how heart disease has touched a couple of Wichitans.
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Mark Larson has a couple of inborn proclivities that fight each other at crucial times: heart disease and a weather bug.
Larson is a meteorologist at KWCH, Channel 12, who has been "a weather geek" since he was 10.
"We're born, we're not made," he says. His job means that there are stormy nights when he gets only a few hours of sleep.
Larson was also born with a gene pool that he says he can't swim out of — a predisposition for a heart attack.
His father died of congestive heart failure in 1999, the year before Larson had his own first heart attack.
Now he is a spokesman for the American Heart Association in Wichita, having had a second heart attack last summer and struggling every day with trying to do his best for his health. It usually comes down to the banal but difficult decision, say, of whether to have the pumpkin bread that's sitting around looking delicious or a protein-rich smoothie for breakfast.
"If I don't take care of myself, I don't take care of my family," Larson says. So he exercises and tries to eat right and to keep his stress down — though that can be difficult during severe weather.
"These are the genetic cards I've been dealt," Larson said. "I don't live in fear, but I know I'm prone."
Because of that, he says, he's offered his services indefinitely to the heart association to help get the word out so people are aware that it can happen to them and so they can take steps to reduce the risks, even if they can't completely remove them.
He says his doctor gave him a clean bill of health three days before his first heart attack, but he had not told her about his family history, and therefore a complete screen was not done that would have uncovered his blocked arteries. So he urges people to be proactive with their doctor and request appropriate tests if they're at high risk for heart disease.
Ashlea Konecny walks with a large group in the heart walk every year because her son, 4 1/2-year-old Caden, will need heart surgeries as long as he lives.
Caden was born with truncus arteriosus, a rare type of congenital heart disease in which a single blood vessel comes out of the right and left ventricles, instead of the normal two.
His mother says it was sending blood to his lungs instead of to the rest of his body.
He was drowning in his own blood.
As a baby, he had two open-heart surgeries to give his heart artificial conduits. After the second surgery, he almost died, his mother said. He was on life support for two weeks. During that time, he had three more surgeries.
"Right now, he's doing pretty good," Konecny says. But Caden will continue to need surgeries as he grows because he will outgrow the heart conduits.
Her goal is to get him bigger and stronger for each surgery.
"He was almost a year old, and he never held his head up because he was always lying down," his mother said. "He didn't walk until he was almost 2. He's been through a lot of stuff, and that's the main reason I like to participate in the walk. ... It helps with funding through research. Whatever they can do to prolong the time between surgeries" would be a blessing for Caden, she said.
The association also has helped her with "a ton of resources," including getting her in touch with others who have gone through what she has so that she has some support.
"One of the biggest hurdles is finding other people, because it really helps to talk to someone who's been there recently."
If you go
Greater Wichita Start Heart Walk
What: Benefit for the American Heart Association, along with healthy and fun activities.
Where: Cessna Stadium, near 21st and Hillside on Wichita State University's campus
When: Saturday. Activities start at 8 a.m.; walk starts at 9 a.m.; event ends at noon.
How much: Free. People who raise or donate at least $100 will receive a T-shirt.
To register or for more information: Visit wichitaheartwalk.org or call 316-265-4238. You can also register at the event.
Today's story is the fourth in a series dealing with heart health. Read the complete coverage — include last week's article on stroke prevention — by visiting Kansas.com/health.