Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States? According to the American Heart Association, nearly 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day—an average of one death every 38 seconds. And approximately every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. will have a heart attack or stroke.

These startling statistics are what prompt more than one million people across the country to participate in the annual Heart Walk, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.

Founded in 1924 by a group of cardiologists, the American Heart Association advocates for stronger public health policies, funds heart and stroke research and provides lifesaving tools and information. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the nonprofit organization has 156 offices nationwide, including the American Heart Association-Maui Division at the J. Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku. Since 1949, the nonprofit has invested billions of dollars in research that has led to significant medical breakthroughs, including techniques and standards for CPR, the first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, cholesterol inhibitors, microsurgery and drug-eluted stents.

That’s why fundraising efforts like the annual Maui Heart Walk are so important, said Leslie-Ann Yokouchi, owner and principal broker of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BHGRE) Advantage Realty Valley Isle. Yokouchi served as co-chair of this year’s non-competitive 5K walk, which was held on Saturday, April 20, at Keopuolani Park in Kahului. It was her fourth Maui Heart Walk, and it very likely won’t be her last. Yokouchi’s personal connection to the mission of the American Heart Association is what keeps her coming back every year. “My dad suffered from heart disease and then finally died from a heart attack,” she said. “I also have a very close friend who suffered through a stroke. I think everyone knows someone who has, or has had, this disease. We can help fight it so we can lead healthier lives.”

For the fourth year in a row, Yokouchi laced up her sneakers and led the BHGRE team, which was made up of agents and their family members and friends (both two- and four-legged). In addition to raising more than $7,000 for the American Heart Association, the nearly 40-member team sponsored the Maui Heart Walk’s Doggie Depot. “This is the second year we hosted the Doggie Depot,” explained BHGRE Realtor-Broker Erin Clapper. “We gave away dog treats, leashes and tennis balls and helped educate people on how having a pet can help keep your heart healthy. The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation (HARF) brought a few pups to help us educate and encourage walkers, too.”

This year’s event drew some first-time “heart walkers,” including BHGRE Realtor-Salesperson Judy Stratford. “It was my first Maui Heart Walk, but I have worked with the American Heart Association in the past,” she said. Stratford says the organization’s mission hits close to home. “My family has a heart problem history and my mom has had two quadruple heart bypasses and a minor and major stroke,” she said. “It is so important for everyone to be aware of just how fragile our hearts are…and how we must learn to take better care of them.”

Like Yokouchi and Stratford, BHGRE Realtor-Salesperson Lauren Nottage Hogan says she’s always ready to go the extra mile for healthy hearts. “I participate in the Maui Heart Walk mainly because of my father, who has benefitted greatly from the work of the American Heart Association,” she said. “My dad has a defibrillator and a pacemaker that saved his life. If not for the technological advances made by the American Heart Association, my father would not have seen his 91st birthday.” Hogan is a three-time heart walker and says it’s something she looks forward to every year. “I love to see the community come together to celebrate causes like this,” she said. “You can feel the aloha.”

The 2019 Maui Heart Walk may have come and gone, but it’s not too early to start planning for next year’s event—and it’s never too late to start supporting the American Heart Association. “I think everyone knows someone who has suffered with this disease, and if we all gave a little of our time or money, we could make a difference,” Yokouchi said. “The American Heart Association, through its education and research, will help save your life or the life of someone you know. It’s that simple.”

To learn more about the American Heart Association, visit www.heart.org or call the American Heart Association-Maui Division office at 244-7185.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – May 4, 2019

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