WILKES-BARRE — For five weeks Julie Walker kept the bag from the hospital in her living room, hesitating to open it.
She knew it contained her daughter’s personal effects, the clothes Peyton had been wearing when she died, suddenly and all-too-young, at age 19.
Finally, Julie Walker summoned her courage, opened the bag and pulled out a long-sleeved t-shirt.
“Every hair on my body stood on end,” Walker recalled, as she read the words printed on the garment: ”What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
The message seemed to have come directly from Peyton — a snowboarding, rock-climbing King’s College sophomore who had been studying to become a physician assistant when sudden cardiac arrest claimed her five years ago this November in her college dormitory.
“She’s not here physically, but she is spiritually,” Walker said on Monday afternoon as she discussed a free cardiac screening for young people ages 12 to 19 that the Peyton Walker Foundation is co-sponsoring with King’s College, Geisinger and District II of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Up to 120 young people, ages 12 to 19, can be screened at the Oct. 6 event, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the King’s on the Square facility on Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square. (Register beforehand at PeytonWalker.org or call 717-697-5511.)
Each young individual will receive an electrocardiogram, or ECG, and if it reveals cause for concern, the young person can receive an echocardiogram, or EKG, to reveal more information, on the spot.
“There is no need for insurance information and no co-pay,” Walker said. “Just bring your kids.”
While her family had been aware, since Peyton was in fifth grade, that she had a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart muscle that makes pumping blood more difficult, most young people who succumb to sudden cardiac arrest had no inkling of any kind of heart problem.
The Peyton Walker Foundation is based in Mechanicsburg, where the family lives, and the more than 1,500 young people already screened tend to be from that Midstate area. Those screenings have detected “100 to 120 conditions such as high blood pressure or a slight heart murmur and about 30 more serious problems,” Julie Walker said. “Several have had surgery or are on medication.”
These potentially life-saving efforts would please Peyton, Walker said, remembering how her daughter wanted to help people as a physician assistant.
“She lived life to the fullest,” Walker reminisced. “She would beat the living daylights out of her Jeep (while four-wheeling) and her father would fix it. It was a great bonding experience.”
“She talked me into a zip line, and I have no regrets,” Walker said. “I’m so glad I did it. It was one of the last activities we shared together.”
While Peyton grew up taking medication for her heart condition, her family agreed they wouldn’t let it define her life.
She wasn’t allowed to play the contact sports that interested her, but when she complained, her mother said, “Baloney! There are two things you can’t do but a million things you can do.”
JoAnn Kosik, director of student health services at King’s, said area coaches have been urging young athletes to take advantage of the screenings, and she hopes many other students from area schools will join them. The screenings are not for people already under the care of a cardiologist.
The Peyton Walker Foundation has provided more than $60,000 in scholarships to physician assistant students at King’s College over the past four years, and has donated $15,000 worth of equipment to the PA program.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT