MOOSIC — Ron Beer remembers taking his then-baby daughter from North Carolina to Kansas to introduce the new grandchild to his mother.
“It was bittersweet,” he said, recalling an encounter that took place almost 12 years ago. “It was the first time she held her, and it was the last time she held her.”
Beer’s mother, Georgia, had been battling heart disease for as long as he could remember. She underwent a heart transplant near the end of her life and, years earlier, had changed the way she cooked, abandoning the big, Midwestern-style dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
“I remember when the big Sunday dinners stopped. I remember when salt disappeared from our house,” said Beer, who is chief administrative officer for Geisinger’s Northeast Region. “We had a big garden and grew a lot of our own vegetables.”
But heart disease is a formidable foe — and the leading cause of death in this country. Despite her efforts, Beer’s mother lost her battle when she was about 60, just as his father, Bob, had when he was a decade younger.
Beer, who is chairing Saturday’s 2018 Northeast PA Heart Walk, sees the annual event as a way to strike a blow against this major killer of Americans, and it’s not only because the local walk is likely to reach its fund-raising goal of $250,000 for the American Heart Association.
He’s hoping that, as participants stroll a mile around PNC Field in Moosic, anyone who needs inspiration to become more active will find the fun and camaraderie of the event, plus the feel-good afterglow of the exercise, to be the kick-start they need.
In addition to offering a place to walk, the event will include stations for learning hands-only CPR as well as trying yoga, hula hooping and jumping rope.
“Find something you enjoy, something that works for you,” Beer said. “Not everyone is going to run a 5K.”
Pointing to his own fitness goal — and to the fit bit on his wrist — he said that, in addition to occasional jogging or cycling, “I strive for 10,000 steps a day,” which seems right for him.
“That may be too much for some people,” he added, “not enough for others.”
In addition to its other goals, the Heart Walk is designed to raise awareness that heart disease can happen to anyone.
“Heart disease doesn’t only affect the elderly,” said Steven Milewski, of West Wyoming. “It affects the young, old and everyone in between, even the unborn.”
Milewski’s 2-year-old son, Zach, was born with congenital heart problems that included a hole between his two ventricles. Zach had his first operation when he was 19 days old and a second surgery at 8 months.
“All he knows is, he gets echos (echo-cardiograms) from time to time and he has a boo-boo on his chest,” said Milewski, who is looking forward to walking in the Heart Walk with his son, his wife, Sarah, and the couple’s 7-year-old daughter, Maura.
With Zach serving as the Heart Walk’s “child chair,” his family anticipates the event as “a day of celebration and a time to make more folks aware of what we’ve gone through and what others are currently going through.”
Meanwhile, as members of various teams try to raise money for the American Heart Association through the event, secretaries in Geisinger’s cardiology department have ratcheted the competition up a notch.
For weeks, they’ve been collecting coins and bills in glass jars at their work stations, encouraging patients, doctors, and other passersby to contribute by decorating the area with enthusiastic little signs.
“Fill my jar, not Amy’s,” one sign read, while “I need to win this year” and “The trophy will look great here” were among other comments.
Noticing that her glass jar looked quite full earlier this week, secretary Mary Ellen Bryan admitted it was probably time to empty it again so potential donors would feel more inclined to give.
“We keep emptying them,” she said with a laugh. “We want to look poor.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.