Heart and stroke prevention efforts stir emotions in different ways

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A cardiologist chooses an aerobic dance to stress the point your heart needs exercise like any other muscle in your body. "If you want to make your heart stronger, you exercise," Dr. Gary Barkocy said to elderly dancing women wearing purple jackets and red hats. "Look at this. It's perfect."

A more sobering heart awareness message is shared by Zeke Martinez. "By the time I drove two blocks and right as I get into the back of the ER that's when the pain hit," said Martinez as he held back his emotions. On that day the paramedic, daily runner and person given a clean bill of health the month before was having a heart attack. He knew he must go the emergency room as a patient, and not as an employee. "Everything worked out just perfect," Martinez chokes out as tears well up in his eyes.

Then there's women and heart health. Heart disease sneaks up on them too. "It was a shock because I had no idea," said Ruby Perschke. It was three years ago when she felt tired. "It was during the holidays. I told my doctor I had to go home and decorate. He wouldn't even let me go home. A staff member drove me to the hospital," recalled Perschke.

These are real life reasons behind the work of the Nacogdoches Heart Healthy Coalition. Members promote heart awareness. Task forces are planning city walking trails, nutrition facts of local restaurants and promoting awareness among minorities. The coalition is supporting legislation to strengthen physical education in schools. Right now 61% of children 9-13 don't participate in exercise outside of school.  "When I was in trouble I got grounded to the house. I couldn't go play. I hated it," said coach David Rabe.  "Now you tell a kid they're grounded to the house, so what. That's where they want to be anyway."

The coalition's work could soon bring the city a Heart and Stroke Healthy City designation. "The application will be reviewed and rated on February 13th. We'll know by the end of the month if we got the designation," explained Kinnie Parker, coalition coordinator. And for Zeke Martinez the work has suddenly taken on a personal meaning.   "You have to have that knowledge and hopefully that's what we're doing here," said Martinez.