A heart donated 10 years ago is the reason Reagan Potter is alive today and the reason her family and friends walked beside her Saturday morning.
Born in 2005 with a rare heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome – a condition where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped – Reagan underwent her first open-heart surgery at just five days old. She was to have two more open-heart surgeries in the coming months.
But at 8 months old, just before her first Christmas, her heart became too weak. Reagan’s only chance of survival was a heart transplant.
“We were lucky to have a donor that had the worst day of their life,” said Reagan’s mother, Kelly Potter. “We’re blessed to be able to carry that heart on. ... Getting more donors ... creates more life.”
The Potters walked in the American Heart Association’s Midlands Heart Walk with some 6,000 people Saturday to promote physical activity and heart-healthy living. Most represented heart disease survivors and friends and family of those who have been affected by the No. 1 killer of Americans.
You would never suspect us, physically looking at us. I used to be a marathon runner. But you can’t overcome the genetic part of it.
Heart attack survivor Tim Payne
Donning a pair of red hats marking them as survivors of heart disease, husband and wife Tim and Cara Payne, 54 and 48, walked to celebrate both of their lives.
Twelve years ago, Tim held his wife in his arms as she nearly died of a heart attack. She was only in her 30s.
Since then, the couple has participated in Heart Walks every year to raise awareness of heart disease. Tim, though, was absent two years ago when he was recovering from a heart attack of his own.
“You would never suspect us, physically looking at us,” Tim Payne said. “I used to be a marathon runner. But you can’t overcome the genetic part of it.”
Their 26-year-old daughter, Krystal Pearson, walked with them and a dozen other friends and family members wearing “I ‘heart’ walking” T-shirts. She said she tries not to think about what she saw her parents go through.
Chicarra Jones, 34, also was a child who watched her mother battle heart disease for almost half her life before she died almost a year ago. Her mother was roughly the same age as Jones is now when she had her first heart attack.
“I think this is a sign from her that I need to get out and bring awareness and just give my story to others ... so maybe I can save someone else’s mom,” Jones said. “It’s scary.”
A mother of two young children herself, Jones said she hopes her son and daughter never have to endure what she and her sister did losing their mother so early.
“I want to be around for them,” she said. “I want to be there to play with them and run around with them and enjoy them as children. I want them to see me grow old.”
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Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.