For 7-year-old Gabriel and his family, the annual Miami-Dade Heart Walk is more than just a fun event; it’s a celebration of life.
Three days after being born, Gabriel was diagnosed with a type of congenital heart defect named Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a condition that occurs when the left side of the heart does not develop properly in the womb.
He had his first open heart surgery at just seven days old and underwent two more surgeries and three procedures before his fourth birthday.
“If it weren’t for the contributions made to the research studies of new innovative surgical techniques to treat heart disease and congenital heart defects, Gabriel would not be with us today,” explained Cathy Gonzalez, Gabriel’s mother and a Miami Lakes resident.
The American Heart Association has funded millions of dollars towards research studies conducted in South Florida through events such as the Miami- Dade Heart Walk.
The event has long been the American Heart Association’s premier fundraiser across the United States, raising critical funds to help combat heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 4 leading killers, respectively, of American men and women.
“Before our son was born, we had no idea that congenital heart defects were a major issue in the lives of so many children. By participating in the walk, we are not only fundraising, but also educating others about the No. 1 birth defect,” said Cathy.
Through the Heart Walk, the association strives to raise awareness about the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases. “By walking, we are paving the way for longer, stronger lives,” said Ernie Diaz, the 2012 Miami-Dade Heart Walk Chair and South Florida Market President for TD Bank. “Studies show that for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by up to two hours, so let’s get moving!”
This year’s walk is taking place from 8:00 a.m. through 12 p.m. on Saturday, October 6 at Florida International University. Participants will enjoy free activities such as health screenings, a kid’s zone, entertainment and a healthy lunch. The Heart Walk is sponsored nationally by Subway restaurants and Jenny Craig.
Last year, the Gonzalez family raised more than $1,600 through donations to their team “Gabriel’s Hope.” This year, they plan on doubling that amount.
“Gabriel’s body functions with half a heart, but he definitely lives his life wholeheartedly,” said Cathy. Last year, Gabriel’s doctors determined that he was well enough to live a normal life and visit the cardiologist just once a year as opposed to several times throughout the year.
For more information about the Miami-Dade Heart Walk, please visit www.miamidadeheartwalk.org