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Stories from the heart

Heart Walkers have personal motivations for participation

Heart Walkers have personal motivations for participation

September 18, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Alexander "Xander" Green inspired Nathan and Alice Green to walk in the American Heart Association's Heart Walk this year.

Xander, 1, the Greens' first grandchild, had open-heart surgery six weeks after he was born. "He survived," said Nathan Green, 56, of Waynesboro, Pa. "He's so healthy now. It's like he didn't miss a beat."

The Franklin/Fulton County division of the American Heart Association will host the Heart Walk on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Tayamentasachta Environmental Center in Greencastle, Pa. More than 65 teams are expected to participate, said Sharon Strike, spokeswoman for a local chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA). Xander, who lives in Mountville, Pa., has been selected to represent all of the survivors of heart disease or stroke, Strike said.

Strike said the Heart Walk is the largest event organized by the local chapter. The Heart Walk accounted for $111,549 of the $193,815 the organization raised in fiscal year 2005-06, Strike said.

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The local chapter is shooting for $130,000 at this year's Heart Walk, Strike said.

The Greens said that by raising money for the AHA, they will help "all of the other Xanders who haven't been born yet," Alice Green, 56, said.

"We hope that (Xander) never has to go through that again," Nathan Green said. "I don't want any child to have open-heart surgery."

The Greens, along with other survivors and those affected by heart disease, told The Herald-Mail what motivated them to walk.

Xander's story

The day had finally come, Nathan Green explained. "I was going to be a grandpa," he said, of his reaction when his son Chris Green and his wife, Cindy, announced that they were going to have a baby boy, Xander.

The birth went well.

"We left the hospital thinking we had a healthy baby boy," Green said.

But something was wrong with Xander. Sometimes, his body turned blue and shook when he cried. Doctors would later determine that Xander had the heart condition tetralogy of Fallot, with a hole in his heart, said Xander's father, Chris Green.

"It's like in two days you go from feeling the highest high to feeling the lowest low," Alice Green said.

"We got a call (the night after he was born) that there was something wrong with him," Green said. "I was thinking, 'He's going to die.'"

The good news, the Greens said, was that Xander's condition was treatable. The bad news was that he needed surgery and might need to undergo surgery again as a teenager.

"After learning all the facts," Nathan Green said. "We were convinced that he'd be OK. We hope that he only has to have (the surgery) done one time in life."

Their optimism comes after years of fundraising for the American Heart Association through their employers. Last year, Xander's surgery inspired the Greens to take on the fundraising efforts as a family, outside of work.

They believe that the money they raise will help children like Xander in the future. At this year's walk, Xander will wear a red cap, which is given to survivors of heart conditions, Strike said.

"I don't want to see him have to go into the hospital just before he graduates from high school," Alice Green said. "But I believe, in 15 years, things will be a lot better, hopefully, 10 years."

John Bryner's story

Four years ago, John Bryner, 66, of Chambersburg, Pa., got a wake-up call.

Doctors found a blockage in a major vessel near his heart. His condition called for an angioplasty - use of a balloon to open blocked blood vessels - and a stent, a tube that's placed into a blood vessel in order to hold it open.

Bryner said that his health, among other things, hinged on changing his eating habits and losing weight. Bryner is short in stature and weighs around 215. He said he needs to lose at least 100 pounds.

His condition came from years of poor eating habits and lack of exercise, he said. Heart disease also runs in the family. He worries that his 31-year-old son will be next.

Food continues to be Bryner's biggest hurdle. His wife, Peggy, 62, said she nags and cooks healthful meals at home. But she said her nagging and home-cooked meals only go so far.

"One of my biggest fears is that he will have a heart attack and there's no one around," she said. "I don't have the physical capability to help."

While Bryner continues to work on changing his lifestyle, he said he's confident that he and others like him will have a better quality of life despite having a heart condition - thanks to advances in medical research.

Of the millions of dollars raised nationally, about 23 percent goes to medical research, Strike said. The majority of donated money goes toward public health education and advocacy.

The Bryners, who have volunteered in the AHA's local office since 2004, will walk for the first time this year.

"That money goes to medical research," John Bryner said. "This disease is a major killer."

Sandy Heckman's story

Twelve years ago, the memory of baby Debbie's death came back to haunt Sandy Heckman, a part-time real estate agent from Mont Alto, Pa.

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