NAPLES — Davee Lester, 3, and Michael Madden, 6, wore identical red baseball caps Saturday for a reason.
They’re survivors of heart disease.
All heart disease or stroke survivors at the 16th annual Start! Heart Walk wore the same symbolic, survivor baseball caps as Lester and Madden during the American Heart Association’s premier fund-raising event at Cambier Park in downtown Naples.
Lester and Madden will “try to create hope for others that they’re living because of the research that the Heart Association helped to support through our funding,” said Regan Goldberg, vice president of field operations in Southwest Florida for the American Heart Association.
Nearly 2,400 Americans die from heart disease every day.
So nearly 4,000 people, including many heart disease survivors, walked 3.1 or 1 mile in downtown Naples to raise money to help combat America’s number one and three killers, heart disease and stroke.
“It’s really terrific to see all these people,” said Kristi Lester, Davee’s mother. “We’re all here for the same reason because usually we’re affected personally ourselves or a family member or a close friend, so it’s nice to see that there are so many supporters out here for the same reason to continue the (American Heart Association’s) work and research.”
Davee’s mother, who works for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, wants to start a support group for fellow parents whose children have heart disease.
“It’s a very sensitive subject,” Kristi Lester said. “My kid’s got a scar for life on his chest, and the scar is almost worse for the parent.”
Collier County’s Start! Heart Walk was one of 450 walks going on this year in the U.S. to raise funds in order to save lives from heart disease and stroke.
This year, the Collier County Heart Walk, which did not charge registration fees, raised more than $320,000, which was a 14 percent increase from last year’s total of $280,000.
The top cause sponsor, or a sponsor who aligns with the American Heart Association for a year-round campaign, for 2009 was an anonymous donor, who granted the most amount of money in memory of Kyle Fernstrom.
“I lost my son to heart disease about four years ago,” said Shelly Church, who is Fernstrom’s mother. “So now we continue the team, “Kyle’s Team,” in his memory each year.”
Fernstrom, a Naples High School student and manager of the Golden Eagles’ basketball team, was born with a congenital heart defect and died at 18.
“I know he’s walking with us today and smiling down from heaven,” Church said of her son who used to walk in the event until he passed away in 2005.
Several of Fernstrom’s high school friends and Naples High School’s former basketball coach were walkers for “Kyle’s Team.” This year, “Kyle’s Team” raised more than $18,000 for the event, and since Church began participating in the event 12 years ago, she has raised more than $350,000 for the Start! Heart Walk.
Teams of employees from 80 local companies donated money and participated in the walk.
“The Heart Walk is important to Arthrex for two reasons,” said Connie Byrne, recruiting supervisor at Arthrex. “One, because it gets employees out, and (we) can get together and get to walk for a good cause. Two, this is a disease that kills people and affects everybody: little kids, old people, everybody.”
Robin Galvin, who survived a cardiac arrest at the age of 42, ran the 3.1-mile-route and shaved 10 minutes off her average 3-mile time.
“It does my heart good to see everybody out here exercising, promoting the cause, donating and really supporting the whole effort,” said Galvin, who also has a heart condition called Prinzmetal’s Angina. “It would be nice to see heart disease eradicated in my lifetime.”
E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.