More than 400 participants gathered at Harrisburg City Island on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 19 for the annual Capital Region Heart Walk. The event raised over $326,000 for the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization focused on heart and brain health for all, while promoting physical and mental health through healthy habits.
The event saw fewer participants than in previous years, but those that did participate were excited to have the opportunity to gather in-person again after the Heart Walk was held virtually in 2020. The dedicated group of participants included heart disease survivors and their families, proudly wearing their commemorative Heart Walk baseball caps and Heart Hero capes, as well as local company teams. The teams from TE Connectivity and Weis Markets lead as the top fundraising companies.
“The Heart Walk has always been a time to start making healthy lifestyle changes and, of course, raise the funds to support research breakthroughs, education programs, CPR training, advocacy efforts and more,” said Jaime Hynoski, community relations and event management specialist at Weis Markets, who served as chair of the 2021 Capital Region Heart Challenge campaign. “Weis Markets proudly supports the American Heart Association at the highest level throughout the year and is grateful for the community’s support towards this life-saving mission.”
The star of this year’s Heart Walk was 4-year-old congenital heart defect survivor Niko Mesich from Boiling Springs. Niko was diagnosed with congenital heart defects including unicuspid aortic valve, aortic valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation when he was born in August 2017. He underwent his first open heart surgery to reconstruct his aortic valve at just 14-days-old and his second open heart surgery to correct the mitral valve and further open the aortic valve at 7-weeks-old.
“Niko has managed to stay healthy and out of the hospital since his last surgery, which we attribute to his stubbornness and fighting spirit,” said his mother, Rosie Mesich. “While we know that there will be more surgery in Niko’s future, we are currently enjoying having a healthy 4-year-old who loves to play, hike, run and sneak food everyone morning while everyone else is sleeping. Niko certainly wouldn’t be here without the research that is funded by donations to the American Heart Association and other charitable organizations that support congenital heart defect research and treatments.”
After sharing their story, the Mesich family led walkers to the start line to kick off the walk around City Island. Walkers had the option to continue walking across the bridge to Riverfront Park and back to extend their walk to a 5K.
Supporters who were unable to attend the Heart Walk in person were encouraged to walk on their own path. The American Heart Association encourages anyone who wishes to support the Heart Walk, but was unable to attend the event in person, to walk where they are and share their walk on social media using #HbgHeartWalk.
The funds raised at events like the Heart Walk support the American Heart Association’s mission, including advocating for public policy that improves community health, advancing the science of CPR, improving outcomes for heart and stroke patients, and investing in cardiovascular research that has led to life-saving advancements in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
The Capital Region Heart Walk was sponsored by Weis Markets, TE Connectivity, the Rite Aid Foundation, Post Acute Medical, Select Medical, Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Helen M. Simpson Rehabilitation Hospital, UPMC, Giant, McClure Company, McNees Wallace and Nurick, Penn State Health and other supporters.
Donations to help the American Heart Association reach its $575,000 goal for the Capital Region Heart Walk will be accepted through Oct. 19, 2021. Visit heart.org/capitalregionwalk to learn more and make a donation.
Communications Director for the American Heart Association in Central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, York, State College, Altoona and Johnstown.