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Heart Association fundraiser focuses on improving lifestyle choices, research funding

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The American Heart Association has spent the last nine months in efforts to raise more than $1.4 million at this year's Start! San Diego Heart Walk.

These efforts will come to a head Saturday, Sept. 19 in Balboa Park at the 18th Annual Start! San Diego Heart Walk. The walk is expected to be one of the largest American Heart Association events in San Diego County.

The leadership team, led by Wayne Hickey, CEO of San Diego-based ROEL Construction, is focused not only on surpassing the $1.2 million raised at last year's Start! Heart Walk, but also on providing the tools and information necessary to create healthier lifestyles.

"We want San Diegans to know that it is never too late to 'Start!' down a healthier path," said Hickey. "Our hope is that the Start! Heart Walk will help jumpstart a culture of physical activity among participants and increase passion for supporting the lifesaving work of the American Heart Association."

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Californians. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the state. Each day, nearly 2,400 Americans die from cardiovascular disease, an average of one death every 37 seconds.

"Last year we raised over $1.2 million to aid in the fight against heart disease and stroke," Hickey said, "but it was not enough."

While the American Heart Association did fund more than 1,150 new research awards this past fiscal year, hundreds of other highly meritorious research grants and fellowship applications were left unfunded. Research is the key in the fight against heart disease and stroke, Hickey said, and the more research funded, the more likely it is that we all will be able to live longer, healthier lives.

"Basically, the funds we were unable to raise meant that 732 scientific projects were shelved and the knowledge that would have resulted from them deferred," Hickey added.

The American Heart Association is the second largest funder of heart and stroke focused research in the world. Only the United States government funds more research in these areas.

The San Diego region received more than $3 million in funding from the American Heart Association in 2008. This money allowed research projects to be funded at numerous San Diego-based institutions, including: University of California, San Diego; Scripps Research Institute; The Burnham Institute; San Diego State University; San Diego Veteran's Administration; La Jolla Institute; and Torrey Pines Institute.

The 2009 Start! Heart Walk Executive Leadership Committee includes some of San Diego's most prominent executives, including some who have already made significant contributions to this year's event, including Chair Jack Lief of Arena Pharmaceuticals, Jaye Park of Angelica Textiles, Kevin Keegan of BioSite, Lisa Murphy of UCSD and Hickey of Roel.

The American Heart Association's Start! campaign is locally sponsored by Roel Construction. Start! is nationally sponsored by Subway Restaurants, Healthy Choice and Astra Zeneca.

Last year, more than 1 million walkers raised more than $106 million in 425 Start! Heart Walks across the country.

For information about the 2009 Start! San Diego Heart Walk, call the American Heart Association at 858-410-3844 or visit sdheartwalk.org.

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