Honoring our stories: Tyler 5k for Heart Health

By: Marcuz Valenzuela

On a chilly fall morning, downtown Tyler square promptly filled up with people, tents and food trucks with streets blocked off for the occasion. The DJ went to work, animating the crowd before giving way to the opening statements. Survivors, family members, and event organizers came to the stage and shared why they were there that morning, shared their experience that many of the participants could relate to.

With a message to promote heart health and overcome heart disease, the American Heart Association sent Tyler’s participants on the 2019 Heart Walk. According to East Texas Marketing Director Suzette Farr, heart disease is the number one killer of residents in Tyler.

“Those people who just got a pacemaker or had a triple bypass to come out here in the cold and say ‘I’m going to do this’ is why I get up every morning, because I get to do this,” Farr said. “It means the world to me, but even more to our survivors for people to come out and support them and love them and cheer them through the line.”

UT Health was among the service providers attending the walk. Students in the medical field volunteered in coordinating the event along with promoting healthcare information.

“With heart disease, physical exercise is super important,” a student in the nursing program said. “I think it’s great to do a 5k for a heart walk.”

Along with promoting exercise to facilitate heart health, the AHA also encourages being mindful of symptoms and teaching people how to act accordingly. In Tyler, there is a reported increase of uptakes, including individuals in the range of 30 to 40 and cases of congenital heart disease. According to Farr, heart disease is the number one killer among Americans; stroke the fifth among Americans and fifth among Tyler residents.

“So it’s important for people to know their blood pressure numbers and know the signs of stroke,” Farr said. “But with some of our health systems here, they are quick, they are fast, they are some of the best trying to save those lives.”

During one of the speaker statements, event coordinator Vicki Briggs shared guiding principles in preventing and managing heart disease called “life’s simple seven”. Included in the simple seven are: watch your cholesterol, watch your blood pressure, have good blood sugar, exercise, eat healthy, and “above all” don’t smoke.

“Take the symptoms seriously, try to follow those simple seven and know your family history,” Briggs said. “If you’re experiencing symptoms of heart disease, pressure in your chest, and for women if you’re experiencing stomach issues, go to the ER, don’t let it go.”

Briggs shared with the Tyler community how she lost family to heart disease and how in the last three years, six of her friends went to bed and did not wake up the next morning. One of those friends was a hospital CEO who ignored her symptoms from the week before.

“People were telling her to go to the doctor and she wouldn’t,” Briggs said. “Maybe if they pushed a little harder, took her hand and made her go, she wouldn’t have died.”

She also tells how one of her friends almost met the same experience as the other six. Her friend came home from work really tired, experiencing some discomfort and wanted to go to sleep. The husband insisted they go to the ER, which resulted in her needing a heart bypass.

“The best thing that could happen is you got to the ER and you’re fine,” Briggs said. “Her doctor said that if she had gone to sleep she would have died.”

Many in the event had a personal relation to America’s number one killer, whether by having survived a stroke or losing loved ones. Many of those people would impart the same message of taking responsibility with personal health, adopting a physically active lifestyle and eating healthily. Seeing how many people showed up despite the nipping air and responsibilities like work, one could see a community right here in Tyler dedicated behind promoting longer, healthier lives.

“We want you to take care of yourself, we want you to know what to do in case someone needs CPR, know how to take your blood pressure,” Blake Holland from KLTV said. “The message here is that we care about your health whoever you are.”

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