Walking with Heart: Small Steps for a Big Impact
Maureen Gagen, RN, clinical nurse manager, at the 2009 American Heart Association Heart Walk
Hayes and Sanders
(left to right) Dee Hayes, compliance health information management analyst and Sandy Sanders, health care integrity program audit analyst at the 2009 American Heart Association Heart Walk.
photos by Joe Sterbenc

By Allison Horton

Maureen Gagen, RN, clinical nurse manager of the Medical Center's electrophysiology lab, first learned of her son's heart condition five years ago.

"He had an episode on the baseball field where he got really sick and it kind of mimicked a heart attack," said Gagen, an employee of the Medical Center for seven years. "He turned gray and couldn't breathe.  They found out it was a congenital defect we were never aware of."

Medical Center doctors diagnosed Gagen's son with a medical anomaly when he was 15 years old.  Her son's affliction and her own struggles with heart disease and high blood pressure have motivated her to participate for several years in the American Heart Association Heart Walk, which was held on September 25, 2009 in Grant Park.  More than 270 Medical Center employees and patients participated in the one- and three-mile designated walks around the city's lakefront to promote physical activity and healthy living to fight heart disease.  

Gagen credits the Medical Center for recognizing her son's condition.  He didn't need medication or surgery but the Medical Center still monitors his condition with frequent non-stress tests.  She said she believes in the Medical Center's research which is funded, in part, by money raised by the walk.

"His coronary blood flow is adequate now," she said. "We are a lucky story. It could have gone a whole different way if the doctors hadn't recognized it.  There's just a great staff at the University of Chicago that recognized it."

Also at the walk was Dee Hayes, a Medical Center compliance health information management analyst for more than a year.  Hayes walked in memory of her 77-year-old uncle, McKenzie Grice, who died from heart disease last year. Her uncle's death was unexpected because he led a healthy lifestyle, Hayes said. Grice was a marathon runner and did not smoke or drink.

"It was a quick death," said Hayes, a second-year walk participant. "He died from heart disease, but it was compared to stage-four cancer because it ravaged his system."
Hayes has enjoyed participating in the walk each year because of the connection she feels with other walkers. "I like the camaraderie," she said. "I like to hear the survivor stories and about the movement on heart disease. I am a young mother of two children [ages 11 and 12].  I want to be around and it is going to encourage me to walk and eat a little better." 

This year, Hayes encouraged Sandy Sanders, a health care integrity program audit analyst for two and half years at the Office of Medical Center Compliance, to become involved with the event. Sanders said she was walking for both her grandmothers who have heart disease.

"One has been impacted greatly, where she needs oxygen on a daily basis and isn't doing so well," she said. "My other one, my maternal grandmother, does take better care of herself.  She's actually a successful survivor, where she's lost weight and decreased her risk." 

Sanders raised $130 from family donations for the event. 

"Once I told them, everybody was on board for the walk because of the impact that it has had on our family."