Six-year-old Gianna Eaderoso declared the highlight of Sunday's 5k Long Island Heart Walk was having her face painted with a rainbow on one cheek and a heart on the other.
For her mom, Kate Eaderoso, watching Gianna and her twin sister, Gabriella, simply walk the Jones Beach course was "awesome."
The identical twins, who live in Wantagh, were born with different cardiovascular conditions that made both their hearts beat much faster than normal. There were scares along the way, including a midnight emergency room trip, where Gianna, then 9 months old, had to be "shocked" with paddles to stop her heart from beating at 380 beats a minute.
Now, with their heart muscles grown, they've been cleared for full activity, from cheerleading to gymnastics. "You keep your fingers crossed and pray," Eaderoso, 48, a registered nurse, said. "Lots of prayer."
The girls walked Sunday along with about 4,000 people -- getting an occasional piggy back ride from their big sisters.
The event raised almost $350,000 for the American Heart Association.
Joan Buckley, an assistant professor of nursing at Nassau Community College, helped organize a team of students to participate in the walk. She said it was important for them to see the faces of those whose lives the disease touches.
"They can see Long Islanders that are affected," she said.
Autumn is a popular time for fundraisers and walks across Long Island. Also Sunday, at Eisenhower Park, about 5,000 people participated in the 13th annual Walk to Defeat ALS, a degenerative neurological disease.
At the heart event at Jones Beach, 150 teams participated, many wearing illustrated T-shirts to remember loved ones.
Adam Bonanno was 30 when he died of an undetected heart disease three years ago. His mother and father, Julie and Al, raised $10,000 to support disease research and heighten awareness, particularly in young people. Dozens of family and friends wore blue shirts with Adam's picture and the words "It's all good."
"It's something he'd always say," Julie Bonanno, 60, of Bellmore, said. "No matter how bad your day started, it would be all good by the end of the day," she said. "Except for him," she added, her voice catching.Suzanne Napolitano, of Mount Sinai, organized her family after her father, Lawrence Napolitano, 77, died in May of heart disease. Nineteen members of the family walked with shirts bearing his picture.
Kaitlynn Remhild, now 13, was all smiles Sunday at this, her 10th walk. Born with heart disease, she survived open heart surgery and two strokes, and now lives a normal life.
Her mom, Sara, of Plainview, said she helped organize about 35 people for the walk to support the organization. "We gained a lot, not just medically but with the support of other people," she said.
Kaitlynn said she loves participating. "All my family, coming together to support me," she said, "it makes me feel special."