A young family participates in a past Walk for Hearts along the Courtenay River (submitted photo).

A young family participates in a past Walk for Hearts along the Courtenay River (submitted photo).

It’s well known that walking is good for your heart, but did you know that this year’s Walk for Hearts will benefit many deserving hearts in the Comox Valley?

On June 5, the Comox Valley Chapter of the First Open Heart Society (FOHS) is hosting its 10th Annual Walk for Hearts (formerly known as the Walk-a-Thon) at the Florence Filberg Centre to help raise awareness and funds for heart-health education and programs in the Comox Valley.

Members of the public are invited to walk from the Florence Filberg Centre, along the Courtenay River walkway and Airpark and back in support of Comox Valley cardiac care. Walkers can raise pledges leading up to the event or pledge themselves as they arrive, and there will be prizes, snacks and refreshments available for participants.

“The Walk for Hearts is our primary fundraiser, and we hope to raise in excess of $7,000 this year,” says Bernie Poole on behalf of FOHS president Anne Poole. “The majority of the money we raise at our Walk for Hearts is dedicated to St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation for cardiac care initiatives, most recently with an emphasis on the new and very successful Take Heart Breathe Well cardio-pulmonary wellness program.”

The FOHS is a support group for anyone who has had a cardiac procedure or is about to have a cardiac procedure, including their spouse and family members. They meet on the third Wednesday of each month at the Comox Community Centre, and have guest speakers who provide information on topics such as pharmaceuticals, cardiac nurses and physicians, therapy, emergency response and first aid.

“When someone comes home after a cardiac procedure for the first time, they are at a loss,” Poole explained, “So they benefit greatly from our group by being able to ask questions and get answers from others in our group who have ‘been there and done that.’”

There are many reasons why Comox Valley residents take part in the Walk for Hearts each year. For Barb Paulson, Clinical Nurse Educator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, supporting cardiac care is close to her heart.

“I do the walk in honour of my stepfather, who passed away from his third heart attack at the age of 63,” Paulson said, “That’s one of the main reasons why I went into nursing and became cardiac focused. People experiencing heart disease and their families had difficulty obtaining information, education and community support back then. There was little information on lifestyle changes that people should be working on at that time when I was younger.”

Because cardiac disease and hypertension runs in her family, Paulson’s path to cardiac-care education has come full circle. She now runs the Heart-to-Heart Education Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital, is on the board for the Take Heart Breathe Well cardio-pulmonary wellness program and works closely with the FOHS.

“I’m so in awe of the FOHS,” she said. “They are a dynamic team and empower themselves and each other. They also raise funds for the community and I think that’s amazing.”

“There’s life after a heart attack and heart disease, and people can improve.”

Both Paulson and Poole hope to see many community members and groups like paramedics, office workers and teachers come out and support the Walk for Hearts and cardiac care in the Comox Valley. The FOHS is also looking for prize donations, financial contributions, pledges and teams.

The Walk for Hearts runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 5 at the Florence Filberg Centre. If you would like to take part in the Walk For Hearts, contact Bruce Russell (250) 335-1751 or Bernie Poole at (250) 339-5349 for pledge sheets.

Comox Valley Cardiac Care Statistics:

According to Wanda McMillan, manager of Cardio-Pulmonary Services at St. Joseph’s Hospital, approximately 4.6% of the Comox Valley population has had an episode of coronary artery disease in their lifetime, which translates to 2,900 people and is higher than the lifetime prevalence rate of B.C. and Island Health.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is the most common of all Chronic Cardiac Diseases, and in Canada, about 500,000 Canadians live with heart failure, and 50,000 new patients are diagnosed each year. Depending on symptom severity, age and other factors, CHF can be associated with an annual mortality rate of up to 50% with the average mortality rate of 10% (Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation).

The Comox Valley was found to have the third highest rate of CHF and ischemic heart disease in Island Health’s jurisdiction (BC Statistics, PEOPLE 36, 2011). The Comox Valley has a yearly average of 2.2% of our population – or over 1,400 residents – experiencing CHF with about 114 of these individuals requiring a hospital emergency room visit due to symptoms and exacerbation of their disease (BC Ministry of Health Services Primary Health Care Chronic Disease Registries, 2009/10).