Samantha Clark of Wantagh has seen the tragic impact of heart disease on her own family not once but twice.
In 2012, her first husband, Jim, died from a sudden heart attack at the age of 41 leaving her with their two small children. She educated herself about heart disease and in 2019 was able to recognize the warning signs when her current husband, Adam Cherney, suffered a heart attack.
Clark and Cherney, who recovered, spread their message about heart disease and awareness as co-chairs of the American Heart Association's annual Long Island Heart Walk at Jones Beach State Park on Sunday.
"I always thought heart disease was for my grandmother who had congestive heart failure. My other grandmother had a stroke and they were in their 80s," said Clark, 43. "The most important time in men's lives to get checked is between the ages of 40 and 55."
She said Jim had been reluctant to see a doctor.
“Looking back now, he had many, many symptoms in his arm and neck …. We thought he had just pulled a muscle in his neck," she said.
Close to 5,000 people participated in the walk which raises money for heart disease research and awareness programs while paying tribute to those lost to heart disease and celebrating survivors. Organizers estimate they raised over $560,000 on Sunday.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cherney, 45, said he is doing well with the help of medication and a healthy diet that largely excludes red meat, sugar and bread. Doctors found a 100% blockage of his circumflex artery.
Because he has Type 2 diabetes, Cherney said he was always cautious about his health and doctors had been monitoring his blood work. But there were no signs of any heart issues.
“People need to know that you don't have to be sick to watch out for the signs of heart attack. You can be as healthy as an athlete,” said Abigail Fromm, a registered nurse and director of community education at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, which helped sponsor the event. “Some of the warning signs of a heart attack can include chest pain and shortness of breath but you can also feel the pain in your back, neck and shoulder. Pain can radiate and people need to know when they feel and experience these warning signs that they have to call 911 and don't delay.”
Many of the people who participated in the event walked the three-mile course along the Jones Beach boardwalk with friends, family and co-workers, such as Shaquilah Simmonds of Elmont.
“We want to bring awareness and encourage people to get out there and exercise and follow good health to prepare for a better future,” said Simmonds, 27, who walked with a group from J.P. Morgan Chase.
She said family members, including aunts and uncles, have battled heart disease.
“Some of them are unable to be here today so I am here representing them,” she said.
Tara Lee, executive director of the American Heart Association on Long Island said this is the first year the event is back in full swing since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year we were able to get a larger crowd,” she said. “We have a survivor's tent, that's highlighting our survivors. We have a tent, that's doing blood pressure screenings, and another where we talk about rethinking your drink and adding flavor to your water that’s not sugar.”
Clark said she hopes women, who often have different symptoms than men, get the message to listen to their bodies.
“You might just feel sluggish or think you are not feeling well because it’s that time of the month,” she said. “But it could be something with your heart so go get checked.”