WILKES-BARRE — Lori Chase, senior division director of the Northeastern Chapter of the American Heart Association, watched as about 600 people exited Kirby Park on Saturday morning as part of the 2013 Northeast Pennsylvania Heart Walk.
Chase is aware the three-mile, fundraising walk is much more than an effort to raise money for a good cause, even more than simply to raise awareness. Rather, it is a chance for community members to help their neighbors affected by heart disease.
Catherine Okrasinski, a volunteer with the organization for more than six years, was quick to add, “and everyone has someone close to them affected by the disease — everyone.”
“It doesn’t matter how fast you walk or run,” said Okrasinski. “What matters is the commitment to heart health, raising both money and awareness of the disease.”
Most participants were walking in honor of someone affected by the disease. Dan Peck, who recently had a liver and heart transplant, led the walk with a group of his supporters; he is one example of the benefits of medical care made possible by the American Heart Association.
Whey asked why she was participating, Sharon Sorokin said: “We’re walking for Dan (Peck). We walk as a family because we want to be part of a spirit of helping. We even bring our dog!”
Chase lauded the organizations that participate at the event, many of which set up stands offering pamphlets and displays about the benefits of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Volunteers from the University of Scranton danced to “Stayin’ Alive,” the theme song for the new “hands only” CPR program.
“We’re helping, and we are also having a lot of fun,” said University of Scranton sophomores J.T. Dodge and Chris Falvo, as they provided information regarding the high sugar content of everyday foods and its potential negative effects on the body.
More than 100 volunteers from Wilkes-Barre General Hospital participated as a show of support for the organization and its promotion of a healthy lifestyle.
“Every year we walk to raise awareness of heart health,” said Michelle Steiner, a member of the hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Jennifer Deemer, Blue Cross grant and program specialist, said, “We are proud to partner with such an amazing group to raise awareness of the importance of funding research and to encourage lifelong heart health.”
The Heart Association’s Scranton fundraising walk will be held May 14 at Nay Aug Park. Combined, the two walks are expected to raise $200,000. “We are almost halfway there,” said Chase, “and we’re encouraged at area residents’ continued generosity in spite of economic challenges.”
Improvements in the treatment of heart ailments, including the use of technology such as artificial valves, have been made possible by the association, she said.