By Sarrah Peters/News Editor
Heart attacks are the number one cause of death and strokes are the number five cause of death in the United States. On Tuesday, January 15, the Gadsden Heart Walk held a breakfast at The Venue to kick off its 2019 fundraiser.
“This is an exciting time to be in Gadsden,” said Heart Walk Chair and Gadsden Regional Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Josh Hester. “There’s been a renewed focus on health in our community from our city and local leaders. As you’ve noticed, the area is growing more outdoor and recreational offerings for families than ever before.”
Hester said that more work remains to be done, but local sponsors have taken steps to improve Gadsden’s health care. GRMC was named a Gold Plus Achievement-Elite level from the American Heart Association and was re-cognized as one of the top hospitals in the state for stroke care. Riverview Regional Medical Center recently initiated the Resuscitation Quality Improvement (RQI) Program, which uses ongoing instruction for CPR, to help these skills remain fresh in its medical employees.
Last year, the Gadsden Heart Walk raised about $140,000 to help fight heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. This year, the Gadsden Heart Walk hopes to raise $160,000.
The program’s keynote speaker Christie King Ray shared her story of how “life can change in the blink of an eye, in a split-second.”
“My family not only had one of those split-second changes,” said Ray. “We’ve had two, unfortunately.”
Heart disease runs in Ray’s family. Both her parents suffered from heart issues, including heart attacks, open-heart surgery and a stroke.
“My mom had a heart attack in the mid-90s,” said Ray.
Her mother’s Birmingham-based doctor discovered indications of a heart attack in blood work and called to tell the family to come to Birmingham. Ray drove her mother, which she described as her “first Mach-speed trip to Birmingham.” At age 58, Ray’s mother had her first open-heart surgery and a second at age 66, where she developed foot-drop, a condition that causes a patient’s foot to stop working. After rehab, she returned home for several weeks where she ended up falling.
“My sister-in-law and brother Craig were visiting with her a few days before the day and they were talking about her fall and how she was doing,” said Ray. “Cindy, my sister-in-law, was talking about her favorite dessert: bread pudding. Mom loved bread pudding. She didn’t have a clue what bread pudding was. Hindsight…ding ding ding ding. She didn’t have the normal signs of face, arms and speech difficulties. She didn’t have the normal stroke signs. But on May 30, she had her stroke. A massive stroke. Dad found her in the living room, called 9-1-1 and got her to the hospital.”
At this time, Ray and her brother Craig were in Florida for a real-estate auction. Upon arrival, Ray had three messages to call her family. The family decided that Ray would return home, while Craig remained in Florida for the auction.
“Which is how mom would’ve wanted it,” said Ray, emotionally. “We’ve all talked about it. If mom or dad…you know, we do the business. It’s a family business. I returned home and unfortunately, Craig didn’t make it home in time before they took her off life support.”
But that wasn’t the only tragedy that befell Ray’s family.
“There was another split-second, life-changing moment that changed our lives forever,” said Ray.
On the July 4, 2017, Ray called her brother Scott to see if she could come over and swim for the holiday, but he didn’t answer and later responded that he wasn’t feeling well.
“Scott was a very active person,” said Ray. “Physically fit, healthy, not overweight, loved tennis. He was on the tennis team there at the country club, had a tennis court at his home. His whole family, four kids and his wife, are all into fitness and into Crossfit. His wife cooked healthy. She’s all about the health aspect. Scott ate healthy at home. Not so much at lunch when we would be together. His favorite thing was chicken fingers and French fries. And he smoked. On the outside he was healthy.”
Around July 4, Scott visited a doctor because he had not been feeling well, but the doctor could not see anything that was wrong. On July 6, Scott collapsed at work. Ray was in Birmingham working when she got the phone call from her brother Craig, telling her he had collapsed and that they were trying to resuscitate him. Ray had another mach-speed trip.
“As I’m on my way home to the hospital about the steel exit, I got a text from Craig,” said Ray tearfully. “He said we lost him. Scott became a statistic that day. Did you know that in Gadsden, 25 percent of the deaths are from a heart attack? Scott became a statistic that day. 56 years old, a massive heart attack.”
Scott left behind a wife and four children, all in their 20s.
“Losing a parent is one thing,” said Ray. “We all know it’s coming. They’re older than us. It’s not easy trust me, but not a sibling. Not one that’s two and a half years older than yourself. Reality set in that day.”
Ray and her family were inspired to make changes in their lives in an effort to prevent further tragedies. She quit smoking and saw a doctor. She also was inspired to advocate for research, education and healthy choices. She also made a goal to teach CPR, which can save lives when the worst happens.
“Let’s make healthy living and CPR go viral,” said Ray. Help be responsible for saving a life.”
The Gadsden Heart Walk will be held Saturday, May 4. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205-777-7351.