Laerdal leader who is a heart survivor is chairing 2022 Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk

Donna Kosack of Laerdal Medical, chair of the 2022 Heart Challenge in the Hudson Valley.

Donna Kosack’s family and her own health history have made her a strong advocate for educating people about heart disease.

“How many people don’t know they have heart disease, or don’t know the signs and symptoms?” Kosack, Systems Adoption Manager at Laerdal Medical, asked. “I’m chairing the 2022 Heart Challenge to help raise awareness.”

The 2022 Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk is part of the Heart Challenge, and is set for Saturday, April 30, at The Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. To ensure safety for all participants, the Walk will let people begin walking any time they like between 9 and 11 a.m. 

Kosack always knew she needed to be diligent about her heart health. When she was in her 20s, her uncle, then in his 40s, had his first heart attack. Her father and grandfather had also had heart disease. But after her mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, Kosack was sitting on her couch and felt pressure in her chest. At the physical she had scheduled for the next day, doctors detected a heart murmur and sent her to a cardiologist.

Kosack was surprised to learn she had a bicuspid aortic valve – a congenital heart defect which means that her heart valve has two flaps instead of the customary three – which has created an aortic aneurysm.

Kosack immediately had her two daughters and son checked to make sure this isn’t something they inherited. They don’t have it.

“I’m monitored closely for the aortic aneurysm,” Kosack said. “If it gets too big, doctors will operate on it, and replace my valve at the same time.”

Kosack credits American Heart Association events with making her more aware of heart disease. Laerdal is a longtime sponsor of the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk and Kosack has volunteered and participated in AHA events in the 14 years she has worked at Laerdal. She was also a member of the BetterU program in the Hudson Valley, a 12-week heart-health improvement program for women that is celebrated at the Go Red for Women Luncheon.

“I find takeaways at Heart Association events each year,” she said, “and I try to educate myself and others about heart issues wherever I can.”

Kosack has also followed the Heart Association’s health advice.

“We all have a heart, and we need to protect it,” Kosack said. ”I avoid eating anything that could build up calcium in my arteries, abstain from smoking, practice good dental hygiene and drink lots of water. Exercise is also so important, yet challenging. I do aim for 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, and have set a goal this year to bike 77 miles to Manhattan starting at the Dutchess Rail Trail.

“My message to the community is, look out for your health and take care of each other. We all need to get back outside and what better way than the Heart Walk? By being part of this event, you are joining in heart health and continuing to improve the lives of the people you love.

“As a community, let’s also be there to help the continued efforts of the AHA by investing. By investing time and money we continue the mission of the AHA, which is helping many people lead better and healthier lives. The Heart Association provides educational information, teaches CPR and of course, invests in research.”

 “It’s great to be having an in-person event again, and Donna is a terrific leader for this,” said Sunny Intwala, M.D., cardiologist at Nuvance Health and president of the Dutchess-Ulster Board of Directors for the American Heart Association. “Her perspective as a survivor reminds us that it can be surprising who suffers from heart disease. Laerdal is a longtime supporter, and Donna has been a longtime participant. She is an enthusiastic and dedicated leader. We’re grateful that she is chairing the campaign.”

Kosack lives in Hopewell Junction, NY with husband, daughters and son.

The Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk raises funds so the American Heart Association can continue to fund research and community programs to fight the No. 1 and No. 5 killers in America, heart disease and stroke.