In 2022, the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk literally “bridged” two communities when it took place on the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
“It was a great, first-time experience, very positive,” said Donna Kosack, Systems Adoption Manager at Laerdal Medical and chair of both the 2022 and the 2023 Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk. “I agreed to chair again this year because the American Heart Association has a good mission, and I don’t want to lose the momentum we started with our event on the bridge last year.”
On Saturday, April 29, the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk will take place on The Walkway Over the Hudson State Park. Walkers can begin their walk on either side of the bridge, and at any time they choose, between 9 and 11 a.m.
“This is such a great opportunity to bring both Dutchess and Ulster counties together again, and show that we are united in the fight against the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers, heart disease and stroke,” Kosack said. “Last year’s walkers were pleased, and I can’t wait to see what the turnout will be this year.”
Donna Kosack’s family and her own health history have made her a strong advocate for educating people about heart disease.
When Kosack 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, where she learned 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 was also diagnosed with cancer last year, and says she is currently doing well. She keeps a close eye on her health and eats well and admits she can benefit from more exercise.
Personally and through Laerdal, Kosack has a long history of involvement with the American Heart Association. Laerdal is a longtime sponsor of the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk and Kosack has volunteered and participated in Heart Association events in the 15 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 part of the Go Red movement.
“I really want to stress how relevant this is to all of us,” Kosack said. “Heart doesn’t care what nationality, gender or age you are.”
Kosack pointed to Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest as an example of heart disease’s wide reach.
“He was a healthy young man, doing nothing out of the ordinary for him,” Kosack said. “And he just dropped. Where he is today is even more astounding. It’s critical that we reach out to more and more young people, to make them aware of their risk, and to teach them the skills they need to survive – or equally as important, help others survive, like Damar.”
At Laerdal, Kosack said, they are adapting Damar Hamlin’s “3 for Heart” challenge, watching his video; signing up for the Laerdal team; bringing three friends; donating and completing their CPR challenge.
Kosack encourages everyone to come to the Heart Walk.
“I know some people are afraid of heights, but no need for fear, we have enough happening on either side of the bridge, they can participate without being on the bridge deck,” she said. ”We’ll have nice spring weather, and a chance to really improve the health of our communities.”
“Donna is a tremendous advocate for the importance of fighting heart disease, and we are grateful for her continued leadership,” said Alex DiCicco, Academic Quality Analyst, Johnson & Wales University and chair of the Hudson Valley Board of Directors for the American Heart Association. “Her leadership of the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk means that once again, the American Heart Association can raise the funds to continue to improve health right here in our communities.”
Kosack lives in Hopewell Junction, NY with her 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.
To register for the Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk, visit DutchessUlsterHeartWalk.org.