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    St. Petersburg's American Heart Walk draws more than 12,000

    By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 13, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Ten-month-old Kristina Smith is almost walking. But Saturday morning, her whole family walked for her.

    Kristina's mom, dad, brother, grandmother, aunt and uncle were among 12,000 walkers Saturday morning at the American Heart Walk in downtown St. Petersburg. Kristina was born with a ventricular septal defect and just eight months ago doctors repaired a dime-sized hole in her heart.

    Saturday morning she saw the route from her stroller, wearing the red cap of a heart survivor.

    "I'm not sure they would have known what to do for my granddaughter" if not for the kinds of research funded by the American Heart Association, said Diana Campbell, Kristina's grandmother.

    In its 10-year history, the American Heart Walk has raised more than $286-million to support heart and stroke research and educational programs. Local organizers hoped to raise $1-million Saturday.

    Participants took a path between Tropicana Field and Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg.

    Besides raising money for heart and stroke research, the event raises awareness of heart disease, which kills 8,000 people in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties each year, the American Heart Association estimates.

    Allyson Sparks, who participated in the walk and is a registered nurse in the coronary care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, sees patients daily who are recovering from heart attacks or open-heart surgery.

    "It gives them a wake-up call," Sparks said, "and sometimes they are frightened enough that they turn their lives around."

    Precious Shields, 11, walked the four-mile route wearing a sticker that announced she was walking in tribute to her great-grandmother, who had a stroke 10 years ago.

    Walking for the 75-year-old woman, who has fully recovered, is easier than walking with her, Precious said.

    "She likes to do a lot of active things," Precious said. "I try to keep up with her."

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