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Blair County family raises heart disease awareness

Like many other students going back to school this fall, the Albrights: Graham age 13, and his cousins, Heather, 14, Alex, 12, and Shannon, 10, enjoy playing sports and spending time with friends. But this is not your average family. Each of these kids are heart disease survivors, determined to raise awareness and money for future heart disease research. That is why they volunteered to participate in the American Heart Association’s 2006 Blair County Heart Walk.
Diagnosed with a heart murmur at birth, pediatricians told Graham’s parents that their son had Supervalvar Aortic Stenosis. This meant that Graham’s aortic valve did not form properly. Stenosis (narrowing) of the aortic valve made it hard for his heart to pump blood to his body. Heather, Alex, and Shannon also have Supervalvar Aortic Stenosis. In addition, both Heather and Alex have bilateral pulmonary artery Stenosis. This means their pulmonary arteries are also narrow, restricting the amount of blood that flows from their right ventricles to their lungs to get oxygen. According to Cathy Albright, their mother (Graham’s aunt) doctors believe this disease is hereditary, although to her knowledge, no research has yet been conducted to narrow down the culprit gene.
Regardless, each of the Albrights continues to live a relatively normal life.
“In the beginning it was really hard. Now they are basically normal kids with the same problems other kids have,” Cathy said.
At two-years-old, Graham underwent surgery that minimized the murmur and opened constrictions in his heart.
“My murmur has lessened to the point that sometimes at the local pediatric office, if I get someone who doesn’t know my history, they miss it,” Graham said. He even enjoys basketball in his free time. “I now have no physical restrictions other than avoiding sports that could result in a blow to my chest such as football,” he added.
Cathy describes these sports that are off limits as “grunting sports.” Examples would be football and wrestling. Other sports are fine. In fact, Heather, Alex, and Shannon all play soccer.
“Doctors said it was a good cardiovascular sport,” Cathy explained.
The American Heart Association has been an instrumental force in the development of research and medical advances in the cardiovascular and stroke areas.
“Money raised for research really does make a difference,” Graham said. “My cousin had the same procedure done about nine years before me and there were a lot of refinements in advancements in those few years,” he explained, referring to his oldest cousin Travis, age 28.
Cathy agrees. “The continued research is completely important. When Heather was born, we were told she wouldn’t live past five. At on point doctors thought the only option for my children was angioplasty or transplants, but now they are able to widen and patch,” she said.
On Saturday, September 23 Graham, Heather, Alex and Shannon will be participating in the annual Blair County Heart Walk, raising funds to save lives while promoting a long-term comprehensive walking and nutrition program. The 3.1 mile walk at the Penn State Altoona campus is a great way for children and adults to do something that is good for the heart while raising money for a good cause. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the event will get going at 10 a.m., with Red Cap heart survivors leading the walk.
Registration and sponsorship information is available by contacting Jane Gable at the American Heart Association, Altoona office, 949-3160 or by visiting www.americanheart.org.
Blair County Heart Walk 2006 sponsors include: Golden Pacemaker Sponsor, HEALTHSOUTH; Silver Pacemaker sponsor, M & T Bank; Bronze Pacemaker sponsors, Altoona Chapter of Credit Unions, Cardiology, Associates of Altoona, Sheetz, Inc., and The Winds at Mattern Orchard.
Media sponsors are: WTAJ, Forever Broadcasting, and Altoona Mirror.
The Blair County Heart Walk is presented nationally by Subway.