Heart Walk set for Saturday
HUNTINGTON -- If you want to talk with two young people with some wisdom beyond their years, head over to Ritter Park at 9 a.m. Saturday for the American Heart Association Heart Walk.
There, you will see Marcus Clinton, 16, of Proctorville, Ohio, and Kyndall Keaton, 6, of Milton. They were both chosen as this year's "heart heroes," and both have a story to tell.
Marcus, a sophomore multi-sport athlete at Fairland High, is a heart survivor himself. The son of Nicole and Mark Clinton, Marcus was diagnosed last year with a right coronary artery anomaly that -- he was told by his physician -- could have meant death at a young age if not caught by chance. Now he's a dedicated supporter of the Heart Association and will walk Saturday with friends, family, teachers and other supporters who will all be dressed in orange.
Kyndall, the daughter of Amanda and Greg Keaton, is an American Heart Association fundraising champ who lost her little brother last year to issues related to heart health. Grayson Keaton, who was a "heart hero" a couple years ago, was born with a severe heart defect and spent more than two of his four years of life in the hospital, his mother said. He died in December 2013 from complications following his fourth open-heart surgery.
"He was really special to me, and the last four years have been the best I've had," Kyndall said."He was really special to everyone in his family, and everyone loved him so much. We're glad that he's not suffering anymore at the hospital."
She hopes to raise money that could benefit other families like theirs and give them pride.
"I think that we can help other families with it," she said.
Amanda Keaton said Kyndall has spent half her time living at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati and has seen more than your typical 6-year-old.
"She's been exposed to a lot and is very compassionate," she said.
Kyndall was the top fundraiser at Milton Elementary's Jump Rope for Heart, raising $640. Her parents also set her up an online page to raise money for the Heart Walk.
"She went around to friends and family and called and asked for donations," her mother said. "She helped with a hot dog fundraiser at St. Mary's, and that was during a night shift, so she was a trooper."
The Heart Walk -- the American Heart Association's signature event -- is free and open to all, but donations are encouraged, said Sarah Hambley, Heart Walk director for the American Heart Association. There will be activities for kids, including face painting and a Jupiter Jump, as well as wellness screenings and free Subway sandwiches.
The noncompetitive walk is not measured for distance or timed.
"It's just a walk because the Heart Association really encourages walking as the easiest form of exercise," Hambley said. "We encourage 30 minutes of walking five days a week."
Participants who wish to raise funds can go online and register.
"They can send out emails to family, friends and colleagues, and send out social media messages to get donations," Hambley said. "We have red baseball caps for all the survivors. We encourage survivors to come out."
Heart disease goes across the spectrum, affecting people of all ages, she said.
"This is the No. 1 killer in the country and in West Virginia," Hambley said. "It's extremely prevalent here in the community, and it's not extremely visible. You can't look at somebody and say, 'They have heart disease.'"
Last year's event raised $63,000, with all proceeds going toward heart research and education, and this year's goal is $85,000, she said.
Helping shoot for that goal will be orange-clad supporters for Marcus Clinton -- who is a big Florida Gators fan. Hence, the orange.
Marcus was alerted to his heart problem after he was hospitalized with a rare reaction to flu medication that affected his ability to walk.
He was in the hospital four days and was gradually regaining his ability to walk when, "My heart rate dropped to 32 while I was asleep, and everyone ran in wondering why this was happening and asking questions," Marcus said. "The cardiologist said, 'There's nothing wrong as far as we know,' but he made the decision to send me somewhere more advanced in the technology. He sent me to Cincinnati, and they had me diagnosed within an hour or two."
His mother, Nicole Clinton, was shocked.
"I was like, 'No. He plays baseball, basketball, football,'" she said. "But a lot of times, people don't really have a lot of symptoms. It just happens and it's a sudden death event and you never even knew. ... He's done really well. He had surgery in May (2013), and they cleared him in July to start running and conditioning."
Marcus took last football season off, but is back to playing sports and is excited about raising awareness that heart disease affects people both young and old.
"How many kids have to go through this daily, when people think of it as always a 60-year-old man or woman going through this?" he said. "I know a little girl who, as soon as she was born, went to the operating room... She has the most bubbly personality you've seen in anyone.
"I want to bring attention to how this happened to me. It's by the grace of God that I'm here, not luck. I'm happy the circumstances I had to go through to get here. If I had to go through it again, I would have done it. We stayed strong and stayed faithful and went through it in a positive way."
His school has a pep rally planned to raise enthusiasm for the Heart Walk, he said, adding how thankful he is to many people at his school for their support, like teacher Caroline Lovejoy.
"She's really backed me up on this," he said.
The Keaton family also will be there with tremendous support from family and friends, including medical staff from St. Mary's, where Amanda Keaton worked in the cardiac unit for 11 years.
Along with supporting the Heart Walk, the Keaton family also is starting a foundation called Grayson Gives to help local families affected by congenital heart defects, either with gas cards or restaurant meal cards or other expenses tied to traveling to a distant medical center for specialized care.
As for participating in the walk, "We want to keep research and funding going, but what's important to me is to let other families know they're not alone," Amanda Keaton said. "It's a very stressful and isolating situation."
For more information, visit http://heartwalk.kintera.org/HuntingtonWV or call the American Heart Association at 304-720-7842.
Follow reporter Jean Hardiman on Twitter @JeanHardimanHD.
At a glance
WHAT: 2014 Huntington Heart Walk.
WHEN: Registration begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 12, with opening ceremonies at 9:30 and the walk at 10 a.m.
WHERE: Ritter Park by the fountain.
SPONSOR: St. Mary's Regional Heart Institute.
OTHER EVENTS: The annual Heart Walk Bank Day Event, a day when companies and walk teams can bring in the funds they've collected to determine the winner's of this year's Top Team, Top Company and Top Walker awards. The Bank Day event is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at Fifth Third Bank, 517 9th St., Huntington.
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