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Friday night saw the kickoff of the annual Heart Walk in which North County and Farmington schools compete all month to raise money for the American Heart Association. 

Two Heart Ambassadors and one Junior Heart Ambassador represented the American Heart Association at the Heart Walk held this year at North County High School. Ambassadors have experienced heart problems and are there to serve as proof that advances are being made in heart surgeries and care.

Gwinneth Shipley is a Farmington High School student. The energetic sophomore was born with severe congenital heart defects.

“I was born with my aorta shut off, so I wasn’t getting any circulation,” she said. “There were three holes in my heart. Instead of having three valves on one side, I have two on each side. Up until about four years ago, I had a small hole still open, but now it is closed up and I had numerous [echochardiograms] done. Everything looks great.”

Farmington High School freshman Landon Johnson underwent an electrical heart block when very young and was fitted with a pacemaker.

“The upper ventricle and the bottom one don’t communicate with each other,” he explained. “That made them pump differently. It was very tough. I was nine years old and I’m getting a big surgery. I never had surgery before. Now I haven’t had a problem since the surgery. For people with heart problems, I hope for them the best.”

Johnson is a pitcher on his high school baseball team and and is also a member of the school's basketball team. The only thing he cannot do due to his physical condition is play football.

Last, but not least, the Junior Heart Ambassador for Friday night's Heart Walk was Easton Hill, a 15-month-old with congenital heart defects who has had two open-heart surgeries and is scheduled to undergo another one.

The crowd at Friday night's football game between North County and Farmington were excited about the upcoming game anyway, but they were further enthused by the special events connected with the Heart Walk.

Prior to the game, North County Principal Dr. Ryan Long and Farmington High School Principal Dr. Jamie LaMonds had to wear the opposing school's colors until they reached $100 in contributions from the crowd.

There were also some special guests that arrived to take part in the festivities.

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Kirby the Cardinal, the Mineral Area College mascot, led MAC cheerleaders and community volunteers in a walk around the track before the Raiders played the Knights in Farmington’s home opener of the football season. Several volunteers were recognized along with the Heart Association Ambassadors.

Then there were those who showed up Friday night for the cause.

Matt Sebastian, president of First State Community Bank (FSCB) — a Heart Walk corporate sponsor that donates annually to the cause — was helping to man the donations booth Friday night.

“There’s been a rivalry between Farmington Knights and North County Raiders on who can raise the most money for the American Heart Association,” he said. “We have a bank in Farmington, we have a bank in Bonne Terre and Desloge, and last year we played over there, and they invited us over to have a little rivalry as to which bank could raise the most money.

"Unfortunately, they beat us last year. That’s what it’s all about, trying to raise money for a good organization to try and fight heart disease and get the community involved. There’s been a lot of progress made in that over the years, it’s the number one killer in the United States.”

Charlene Bullock has been an integral part of the Heart Walk for more than a decade.  “My dad was Ray Bullock from Bonne Terre, and he and I saw this in the Daily Journal a month or so after my mom had passed, in August of 2005. We thought we could raise money for the Heart Association.

“At that time, we were walking at St. Joe State Park. I go back to when dad and I raised $50, $75. My parents both had heart disease, my mom died with heart disease. We started walking in October of 2005. My dad just passed in November of 2018, he was a great supporter of the American Heart Association.

"He got to come with me to Bonne Terre last year and got a front row parking space and a front row seat inside the gate, so he could watch the walkers. I plan to keep on walking as long as I’m able in memory of my mom and dad.”

For several years, Bullock has been the top individual walker. In the last few years she has raised over $2,000 each year — with $2,420 raised so far this year.

North County and Farmington students will continue raising money until Oct. 4. For more information, contact Jen Rogers of the American Heart Association at 314-374-5366 or jen.rogers@heart.org

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Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

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