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Thursday, 16 October 2014 11:48

The Heart Of A Hero

18-Month-Old Preston Stewart Carries The Torch For Bravery At Saturday’s North Country Heart Walk

By Arthur Gonick

Saratoga TODAY


SARATOGA SPRINGS – In many important ways, Preston Stewart is a “typical toddler” according to his mom, Theresa. He likes to play with trucks, go down slides, make noise at restaurants, play with his adoring sister and he runs, runs everywhere. 


But in the most important way, 18-month-old Preston is anything but typical. He is a hero. A little boy who has so far beaten back an anomaly that affects a percentage of children that is small in number, yet far too great for our society to accept. 


Preston is both a symbol of hope and achievement, and when The North Country Heart Walk occurs on the grounds of Saratoga Racecourse this Saturday, Oct. 18, Preston will be there, torch held high. He and the Stewart family (Theresa and Charlie, daughter Theresa, 7, and Preston) want you to join them.


There is no fee to enter, although donations will be graciously accepted. Katherine McCarthy, senior regional director of communications for the Capital Region Chapter of the American Heart Association, said that this walk has annually raised over $100,000. Pre-registration is not necessary; the event begins at 9:30 a.m. with activities for the entire family, including health screenings and information, a kids zone and breakfast. Kate Sullivan of Froggy 100.3 and Cody Holyoke from CBS 6 will be the MC’s. 



To be a hero, you don’t have to be victorious, but you must take up a heroic effort. 


At 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, a ceremony will take place that is both hopeful and somber, as both Preston’s (this year’s “Heart Hero”) story as well as other survivors, are celebrated. But it will also be a remembrance of those who lost their battles to America’s number one and number four killers – heart disease and stroke – and remind the expected 1,000+ walkers that there is a very long way to go.


Earlier this week, at a torch ceremony and banner hanging on Monday, Oct. 13, other heroes that lost their valiant struggles were remembered.  


Matt Westervelt was just 16 when, in March, he lost the battle he had fought with heart disease since birth. Matt had been the Junior Ambassador to the 2011 North Country Heart Walk, and on Monday, his father Joe Kramer joined in the ceremony. 


“Matt was a great kid,” Joe said. “He was my hero. I will hold my torch high in Matthew's memory at Saturday’s North Country Heart Walk to help make it so no other child has to fight to live their lives like Matthew did.”


The walk itself will commence at 10:45 a.m. During that time, survivors will walk alongside people with memories of heroes they lost. Following the walk, at about noon, lunch will be provided by Subway. 


Rick Knight, a popular North County DJ, was 59 when he died of a heart attack. 


“Rick is missed every day and I am honored to share his memory,” said Kate Sullivan of Froggy 100.3, emcee of Saturday’s Walk. “I hold my torch in the hopes that others will be able to live longer healthy lives.”


Cramer, Sullivan and the entire Stewart family joined Diane Bartos of Saratoga Hospital and Dr. Mandeep Sidhu of Albany Medical Center at Monday’s ceremony to show the coroplast torches that will be available at Saturday’s Heart Walk. 


“This is the second year we will have the torches available at the North Country Heart Walk,” Sidhu said. “There is a great moment before the start when everyone raises their torch high to honor those they walk for that day.


“As a cardiologist, I see these torches as a symbol of all the advances we have made in cardiovascular care, and all the advances we still need to make. My torch burns for all my patients.” 



For Preston and his family, his heroic struggle began in the womb. 


“At 18 weeks, the ultrasound practitioner thought they found something,” Theresa said, forcing the family to learn about new terms like “coarctation of the aorta” and “hypoplastic left heart syndrome” – terms that no young parents-to-be should ever have to learn about. 


Eventually, Preston’s condition was determined to be a bicuspid aortic valve in his heart, which would result in a team of Boston surgeons performing preliminary procedures on Preston beginning no more than 10 minutes into his new life. 


Following about 30 anxious weeks for Theresa and Charlie.


“It was,” Theresa said, “the worst feeling every day. I counted Preston’s kicks, and spent a lot of time crying.”


Preston was born on March 21, 2013. Surgical procedures that were characterized in the beginning as undefined or exploratory took place four days later. 


Preston was a fighter. Pushing out his breathing tube within hours after surgery. Shortly after that, he had his first real meal outside the womb. He had a remarkably quick rehab period and by March 30, he was on his way home. 


Though mostly covered by insurance, the costs to the Preston’s were still several thousand dollars. In addition, Charlie, a contractor “was not able to start any new jobs during the period before, as we had to be ready” to go to Boston. 



The most important reason to support these heroes, both past and present, this Saturday, is that their heroic mission continues. Even for Preston.


“People look at him at think ‘he’s OK; he’s cured.’” Theresa said. “But the fact is, for him, this is not a disease; there is no ‘cure’ at this time for Preston. He may well face additional procedures throughout his life.” 


“My torch is one of hope,” Theresa said. “Preston is normal and very active. I want to make sure that research continues so that he lives a long and healthy life.”


The call to be a hero of this type comes to families randomly. What happened to the Stewart family could strike anyone. 


It’s what you do in response that makes all the difference and that is why all these heroes walk on Saturday. With torches held high. 


For more information, visit heart.org

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