BANGOR, Maine — Two months after Queen City residents Robert and Jessica Gilbert were married, he was in the hospital suffering from a heart condition called familial cardiomyopathy. His diagnosis wasn’t good.
“His heart is enlarged and is twice its normal size,” Jessica Gilbert said on Saturday at the 2010 Northeastern Maine Start! Heart Walk. “They didn’t think he was going to make it.”
Her husband fought for his life and survived his time in the hospital. Thanks to medical technology, Robert Gilbert is now enrolled in college at Eastern Maine Community College, studying to be a fifth-grade math teacher while he awaits a new heart.
He credits the lifesaving research done by the American Heart Association fir his being alive today.
“They’re the ones that came up with the research for the heart pump I’m wearing,” he said. “Without this heart pump, I would have died.”
Participating in the Heart Walk at Husson University, the Gilberts and nine friends and family members raised funds for the American Heart Association.
They were joined by hundreds who came out to support one another and the research that is being done to stop heart disease, said Brenda Quinn, spokeswoman for the heart association.
“It’s also about raising awareness,” she said.
Honored guests included a Glenburn woman whose son performed CPR on her, saving her life, a 1-year-old boy who had heart surgery when he was just 3 days old and others who have suffered from heart disease.
Stroke survivor Christine Burke Worthen, the event’s chairwoman, told walkers that she ignored the warning signs for stroke and encouraged others to take action at the first signs of trouble.
“I suffered a stroke a week after the birth of my son here,” she said, holding a toddler. “Nobody knew or even suspected I was having a stroke.”
Cardiovascular disease — which includes heart disease and stroke — is the No. 1 killer of Maine men and women and the leading birth defect in the state, according to the American Heart Association.
The association’s website lists the warning signs of stroke: numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and severe headache with no known cause.
Worthen thanked a number of businesses for supporting the Heart Walk and noted the top four fundraisers: Hannaford Bros., St. Joseph Healthcare, Greater Bangor Maine Convention & Visitors Bureau and Northeast Cardiology.
The 2010 Northeastern Maine Start! Heart Walk, one of three in the state, promotes a stronger, healthier lifestyle while raising funds to support education and public health initiatives, Quinn said.
This year’s Heart Walk goal was $87,000. As of Saturday morning the tally was approximately $24,000, Quinn said, adding funds are still rolling in and will be accepted for several days.
“This is money that will be used for meritorious research,” Quinn said. “That could be the next major discovery. It’s critical. We don’t get any federal funding.”
The benefits of the American Heart Association’s research are visible, she said, using Gilbert’s strap-on heart pump as an example.
“Before, he would have been connected to a machine at the hospital,” she said. “Now, it’s portable.”
Those who want more information about the 2010 Northeastern Maine Start! Heart Walk should call Gina De Santis at 800-937-0944 or visit northeasternmaineheartwalk.org or heart.org.