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Local walk raises $143,000 to combat heart disease

LAWRENCEVILLE - Tom Andersen didn't mind having a few pies chucked at his face in an effort to raise money for the second annual Gwinnett/North Fulton Heart Walk, celebrated Saturday morning.

In fact, he said it was fun. He also invited clients, fellow employees and friends to donate money to the American Heart Association, organizers of the heart walk. In one month he became the top individual fundraiser, bringing in $10,205, which will fund life-saving research to help prevent death from heart disease and stroke.

"My dad died of a heart attack at 53 and my sister had a heart attack at 53, but she's OK now," said Andersen, a Duluth resident. "This has a lot of significance to me."

Andersen was not only the top individual fundraiser this year, but the law firm where he practices, Andersen, Tate, Mahaffey and McGarity, was slated as the top company fundraiser for the heart walk. The law firm raised $16,789.

The walk brought together more than 500 people and raised $143,000, nearly doubling last year's total of $76,000 and exceeding the $100,000 goal. Over the years, money raised at events like this has funded developments such as CPR, bypass surgery and stents.

"Today was a huge success and we're proud of the community turnout," said John Riddle, Heart Walk chairman and Gwinnett Medical Center vice president for marketing and development. "It's extremely important to prevent the cause of heart disease."

As a representative of both Gwinnett Medical Center and the American Heart Association, Riddle said both organizations teamed up to raise awareness of heart disease.

"Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in this country and claims more lives than the next seven leading causes of death combined," said Bill Russell, who emceed the event. "It is even the No. 1 killer of women over the age of 25."

Many who attended the event wore red caps to show they were survivors of heart disease or stroke. Before the walk began everyone was invited to hold a red balloon, which represented a loved one affected by heart disease or stroke and then released it on cue.

Another way participants honored loved ones was by writing the name of an affected person on their race numbers as they walked the 3.1 miles to the finish line.

Edith Lyon and her husband, Buddy, attended the heart walk as a form of solidarity with other heart attack survivors.

"My husband had a heart attack last year," Lyon said. Her husband said his family has a history of heart disease and stroke. He walked Saturday with his wife and other heart attack sufferers who were able to recover.

"This is my first time walking (the heart walk) and I think it's great," Edith Lyon said.