David Quick // The Post and Courier
Walking for “Little Heart” honoree Mallory Heaberlin are cousin Natalie Bundrick (from left), sister Cayleigh Heaberlin, grandparents Diane and Eddie Bundrick and sister Lauren Heaberlin at the American Heart Association’s 20th annual Lowcountry Heart Walk on Saturday.
Jack Bessette had a physical job and enjoys playing hockey. His girlfriend, Nancy Zan Ast, is an avid swimmer, strong enough to swim a 2.4-mile harbor swim every spring.
But within the last two years, the Summerville residents both suffered heart attacks. Bessette, now 59, lost his vision while driving a truck carrying heavy equipment on Interstate 26 near Orangeburg in January 2010. Zan Ast, 60, had one while swimming last May.
On Saturday, both smiled as they donned official red Heart Walk caps -- an honor bestowed only those who have survived a heart attack or stroke -- and walked to the front among cheers for all survivors at the American Heart Association's 20th annual Lowcountry Heart Walk and joined some 5,000 others in raising what association officials expect will be a record $600,000.
Despite cloudy weather and somewhat chilly temperatures, Lowcountry residents showed their support for research and awareness by jamming a route from Liberty Square, around The Battery and back.
Survivors weren't the only ones celebrated on Saturday. "Little Hearts," small children who started their lives with heart surgeries, and those who made significant lifestyle changes also had a moment in the spotlight.
Among the latter is Brian Ganey, 38, of Moncks Corner who almost died in June 2010.
"I had a pulmonary embolism -- blood clots in my lungs -- and spent a week in hospital after I got out of the emergency room. I weighed 577 pounds and just decided I had to make a change," said Ganey, who has lost 240 pounds and is determined to lose more.
"It really has been a fantastic and phenomenal journey, and something like this (getting a lifestyle change award) means the world to me because I want to give other people hope that's it's possible to change and to take your life back," Ganey said. "I don't think I would be here today if I didn't make a change."
Top fundraisers also got special treatment on Saturday.
D'Angelo Grant, manager of quality engineering at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, raised $3,500 -- the most for an individual at Roper St. Francis -- and was deemed "Pirate King." Grant said when he asked for donations he often told his story: he had to have heart surgery at age 7 to correct a congenital heart defect. The 38-year-old has had no heart issues since.
Grant got to ride in a convertible with the "Pirate Queen," Jennifer Holtsclaw, who raised $2,400, and got a lifestyle award for tackling her high blood pressure.
Dr. Cynthia Putnam, as assistant education professor at Charleston Southern University, was joined by her husband and 25 of her students. She's had two surgeries to repair her condition, subvalvular aortic stenosis, the first in the 1960s and the last in 1999, and underscores the importance of teachers teaching health.
"I work with people who are going to become teachers in public or private schools and most of them end up staying in South Carolina," Putnam said. "As a person who has survived two heart surgeries and is doing well, I talk to my students about staying heart healthy and the fact that as teachers that they need know about health issues, so they can help instill in their students good habits like exercising and eating right."
The honorary chairman of the Heart Walk, Medical University of South Carolina President Dr. Raymond Greenberg, has an extra special reason for being involved in the walk. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation four years ago, had surgery and was "cured."
"This is a very important event," said Greenberg, looking across the crowd and noting the Little Hearts. "To see the community come out in such force just speaks volumes about how much they care about this issue."