When the annual Cedar Valley Heart Walk is taken in June, the walkers who gather in Prairie Lakes Park in Cedar Falls to participate will be led by La Porte City teenager, Ashton Gardner, the 2018 Cedar Valley Heart Walk Ambassador. The Heart Walk is sponsored by the American Heart Association, whose mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

In the hours immediately following his birth, Ashton’s mother, Jen Gardner, recalled learning how chronic heart disease had posed an immediate threat to his life:

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever have a child whose heart didn’t function properly. On August 12, 2004, we welcomed an 8 lb., 2.2 oz. baby boy into this world. Ashton was beautiful! But something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t sleep well that night, and sure enough the next morning his pediatric doctor called in their pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Samir Chandra.

“Ashton had quite a few different defects. Doctors commented on knowing each individual defect but none had seen them all together in one child. He has endured four open heart surgeries, four cardiac catheterizations, one MRI and now bi-yearly echocardiograms. We were told we would be approaching a fifth open heart surgery at some point in his middle school to high school years.
“The [following] days, months and years [have been] hard. They were filled with surgeries, procedures, tears, medical terms, equipment, nursing visits, medications, doctor appointments, waiting, more tears, etc.

“We raise money because 10 years ago there was a new procedure in the beginning stages of an actual trial called the ‘Melody Procedure.’ It would allow his already existing artificial valve to be replaced without going through his chest. This was huge to us. It was a goal – for the Melody procedure to be an option for Ashton at his next crossroads. It may not be the road we can take, but we will evaluate it when that time comes. This is a possibility because of all the hardworking volunteers, hospitals, and donors that give so much to raise money and awareness.

“Ashton has an active, normal life. He loves basketball and soccer. He enjoys gaming, PE and sports in general. He is monitored by the most amazing cardiologist and nurses and I am honored to call him my son. Ashton is our “why.” Raising awareness and money to end heart disease is our mission.”
In 1999, the American Heart Association set a bold 10-year goal: To reduce coronary heart disease, stroke and risk by 25 percent by 2010. A reduction in deaths was achieved ahead of schedule and substantial progress was made against three of the six risk factors.

The organization’s 2020 Impact Goal, to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent, focuses on helping people improve their health and enjoy a better quality of life. With nearly $100,000 pledged for the 2018 Walk, the organization is well on it’s way to reaching its goal of raising $135,000.