By SARA ARTHURS
The American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, scheduled April 12 in Findlay, is a chance for the organization to raise money. But it’s also a chance to raise awareness of heart disease.
Brittney Bickers knows firsthand how important it is to spread that message.
Brittney, of Bloomdale, met her husband, Jon, when she helped save his life after he suffered cardiac arrest.
Bickers said the two met when Jon joined her softball team.
During a game on Memorial Day weekend, 2011, Brittney was playing first base and Jon shortstop. She threw him the ball and as he leaned down to pick it up, he collapsed. It took the other players a moment to realize he was not joking around.
Brittney, who had had some first aid and CPR training as an athletic trainer through high school, and her sister, who had just finished nursing school, ran to him and realized he wasn’t moving. Soon his face started turning blue and Brittney, who had been feeling for a pulse, felt the pulse disappear. Her sister gave chest compressions while they waited for an ambulance. Once it arrived, the EMTs shocked Jon twice with a defibrillator.
Brittney found Jon’s phone and was able to reach family members. The next day, she brought his phone and other items to the hospital. Jon was awake but didn’t remember what had happened. Later that day he was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, where he had surgery to implant a defibrillator.
When he was released two weeks later, he came to watch one of the team’s games. Brittney ran up to give him a hug and his defibrillator shocked him, and he ended up back in the hospital for an adjustment.
She started texting him regularly while he was in the hospital, and the two became friends. They started dating later that summer and got engaged in December 2012 and married in August. They are expecting their first child in May.
Brittney also has a 10-year-old son, who shortly after Jon’s collapse and hospitalization would ask about “the heart guy” and how he was doing.
Jon was 24 at the time of his cardiac arrest. Brittney said the statistics are “staggering” and only 8 percent of people who experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive.
Today Jon is doing well, taking two medications but still able to have a normal life and even play softball.
Brittney had participated in the heart walk even before she met Jon. When she started working at Marathon Petroleum Corp. in 2011, a coworker who was a team captain encouraged her to join the team. Just a month later she helped save Jon’s life.
In 2012, Brittney became a team captain for the walk. She will be the co-chair for the 2015 Heart Walk.
Cardiovascular disease and stroke kill more people than the five deadliest cancers combined, yet 80 percent of the time it is preventable, according to Dasa Dzierwa with the American Heart Association, who serves as the Heart Walk director.
“The need for our work is beyond question,” with heart disease the number one killer in Hancock County, Dzierwa said.
The walks raise funds for educational and awareness programs as well as research. Dzierwa said 80 percent of funds are used locally.
“That is a figure that we are very proud of,” she said.
In the northwestern Ohio region, more than $12 million has been given back to communities in the last 10 years, Dzierwa said.
Last year the Findlay heart walk raised $88,000 and this year’s goal is $125,000, she said.
Money raised goes to research in teaching universities and medical facilities as well as corporate wellness programs, health fairs and CPR training. In 2013, nearly 7,000 people in Hancock County were certified in CPR and automatic external defibrillator training.
Dzierwa said most of the time when someone suffers a heart attack, he or she is not at a medical facility, so it’s important that bystanders are trained and “know how to save a life.”
It’s known that nutrition and physical activity have a huge impact on heart health, Dzierwa said. People can make little changes in their lifestyle, such as drinking water instead of soda or finding opportunities to walk more.
Dzierwa said the American Heart Association emphasizes paying attention to the risk factors called “life’s simple seven:” smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
Both men and women are at risk of heart disease but women may not “listen to their bodies” as much as they should so the American Heart Association is trying to raise awareness of heart disease in women and has gained “tremendous momentum” in doing so, Dzierwa said.
The Right Thing is one of the Heart Walk’s corporate sponsors for the second year. Amy Kincaid, who spearheaded efforts last year, said the company wanted to be a sponsor because so many lives are touched by heart disease and most Right Thing employees have at least one or two friends or family members who have suffered from it. Kincaid said the staff were also pleased that the majority of funds raised stay in Hancock County.
Last year’s Heart Walk was “a phenomenal experience,” Kincaid said. Some employees came out to walk or run while others, like Kincaid, “cheered them on.” Employees brought their children and their dogs. It was cold that day but “a really fun event.”
The ADP Foundation, an organization within The Right Thing’s parent company, ADP, is matching contributions made to the Heart Walk.
Last year The Right Thing employees raised about $20,000 and is setting that amount as its goal this year. So far the company has eight teams and 34 walkers signed up, with more expected.
Kincaid said the Heart Walk is “a great opportunity for the community to kind of rally in early spring,” promoting fitness and spending time outdoors.
Last year the Findlay Heart Walk was one of the top three in the nation in its size market for new dollar growth, something Dzierwa attributes to the addition of the Right Thing as a corporate sponsor.
The Heart Walk takes place April 12 at Riverside Park with a 5K run at 8 a.m., an awards ceremony at 8:50 a.m. and the walk at 9:15 a.m. Walkers can walk a one-mile or three-mile loop.
Participants are encouraged to sign up ahead of time if possible but registrations the day of the event are also welcome.
Registration may be made online at www.heart.org/hancockcountywalk, where donations may also be made.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.