Hafeezah Yates is fortunate enough to have never been stricken with a heart defect. She can’t, however, say the same of her mother or 7-year-old daughter, Jamia.

“It’s something that runs in my family,” the 34-year-old mother said.

So, when a doctor first informed her that her infant daughter was suffering from congestive heart failure, Yates said she did everything in her power to learn as much as she could about the disease.

She said her family’s struggles motivated her to hit the pavement Saturday morning to fund more research on the disease and how to cut the disease’s reach.

More than 5,500 people in T-shirts and tennis shoes came for the American Heart Association’s 16th annual Lowcountry Heart Walk in Charleston, raising $660,000 to help fund the gift of life, event officials said.

The annual fundraiser featured 3-mile and 1-mile walks at Liberty Square. In addition to money, the event raised awareness on heart defects and cardiovascular disease through survivor’s tales, and offered tips on how to make healthy lifestyle changes.

A person dies from heart disease every 39 seconds, according to the American Heart Association. It kills more Americans than any other disease, and kills women more than all forms of cancer combined.

Jim Newsome, this year’s Heart Walk chairman and the president and CEO of South Carolina Ports Authority, said many deaths could be prevented if people took better care of their bodies and watched what they ate.

“It’s about convincing people to take control of their life,” Newsome said. “My father passed away from heart disease at too young an age. It would have been treatable in his case if he took better care of himself.”

The organization hopes to raise $775,000 and will continue to raise money through mid-November.

To make a donation, visit the Lowcountry Heart Walk online.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.