Between 5,000 to 6,000 walkers and joggers congregated for the annual Lee County Heart Walk in Centennial Park in Downtown Fort Myers on Saturday, December 10. With cloudy skies and a brisk temperature in the 50s, walking and running conditions were ideal for the 5K with 1-mile option. If anyone felt cold, emcee Krista Fogelsong of ABC-7 warmed their hearts by reporting that “my parents in North Dakota told me this morning they are below-zero! I think we can take temperatures in the mid-50s!”
The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association of the Southwest Florida Office’s premier event to raise funds to save lives from this nation’s #1 and #5 killers – heart disease and stroke. Designed to promote physical activity and heart-healthy living, the Heart Walk creates an environment that is fun and rewarding for the entire family. The American Heart Association is the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to defeating heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.
“The Lee County Heart Walk has been an annual event for at least 20 years,” related event director Kelly Goodwien. “No one is really sure the exact number; we have been debating that forever! There are over 300 Heart Walks throughout the nation, but the best one is right here.”
“Lee Health is proud to be a major sponsor,” said Dr. Salvatore Lacagnina, the System Medical Director of Wellness and Employee Health for Lee Health. Better known as Dr. Sal, he describes the event as “wonderful! We travel the 3 miles from the bridge in Downtown and back over the Caloosahatchee River. Seeing all of these people out promoting cardiovascular health is inspiring.”
No one is more inspiring than Taylor Van-Netta, who trained for over a year simply to walk in the fundraiser. Taylor, just 23-years-old, suffered a massive stroke in 2015 that left her paralyzed on the right side. “I worked for 16 months to walk with you all here today,” she told an emotional crowd. “I am lucky enough to walk with you. With hard work, it is possible to regain your independence.”
Gary Mooney of The Island Sand Paper received the Lifestyle Change Award. Nominated by Sally Jackson, senior advisor for Government and Community Relations at Lee Health, Gary received the honor not only because his lifestyle changes resulted the loss of 40 pounds and lower blood pressure, but his willingness to share his journey through the community-wide 5210 Challenge via local publications, including the Sand Paper. (See the September 7, 2016 article, “5 + 2 + 1 + 0 = 34” at fortmyersbeach.news. The 5210 program is eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily, with 2 hours or less time on computers or television, 1 hour of fun physical activity and no carbonated beverages.
The Lee County Heart Walk raised in excess of $365,000, with Kelly estimating that the organization will exceed $450,000 when it completes its Spring fundraising programs. For more information see LeeHeartWalk.org.