Michelle Homman proudly walked behind her daughter, Brooke Haney, as she led about 400 people through the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center trails Sunday.
Haney, who has survived multiple open-heart surgeries — including two transplants — also smiled as she walked at the front of the Centre County Heart Walk. She said she felt good leading the pack.
It was a positive moment for both her and Homman, who have participated in more than five walks.
“It’s amazing to be out here and see so many people come out,” she said.
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As recently as 2009, Homman didn’t know if that moment would ever come.
Haney was about to undergo her second heart transplant, and Homman was flooded with emotions. She felt joy that a heart was available, guilt that someone else had just died to give up the organ and fear that she might never see her daughter again.
“It’s like your worst nightmare because you just never know what’s going to happen,” she said.
But Haney is doing well and staying active, able to lead the walk Sunday.
Stephanie Fost, American Heart Association division director, said that the 400-plus participants represent the most ever in the 15-year local history of the event. She added that she’s optimistic they will reach their fundraising goal of $65,000 in the next two months while the fundraising continues.
Much of that money goes to research for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
For Jessica Brower, the research aspect is the most important.
Brower’s son, Bryce, was born five years ago with a congenital heat defect. There weren’t as many tests then as there are today, and 30 years ago they might not have even caught it, she said.
Bryce has been through several procedures, which never get easier for Brower and her family, but coming out to events and seeing support and walking for the cause is something she enjoys.
Knowing there are other people in the same situations who can show support and take up the cause to raise money is encouraging, she said.
“It just makes you feel good to know that other people are going through the same thing as us,” Brower said.
Her family always stresses healthy habits like eating well and exercising, but she said Bryce already wants to do those things and they don’t have to push him too hard.
Exercise is one of the main keys to heart health, Fost said.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days per week, Fost said, adding that walking is a sufficient form of exercise.