Walks to help fight diseases

Thursday, September 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

This weekend, hundreds of mid-Missourians will walk in the direction of research and awareness.

Three fund-raising walks are to benefit efforts to fight diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The first falls on Friday, when up to 500 participants are expected at Light the Night, a one-mile walk through the MU campus sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Two more events are set for Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, an estimated 350 people are expected at an event held in conjunction with America’s Walk for Diabetes at Cosmo Park. On Sunday, the American Heart Association will hold its own gathering at Twin Lakes Park.

The Light the Night walk is in its second year in Columbia. Organizers said they hope to raise up to $50,000.

“Nearly everyone is touched in some way by cancer,” said Lisa Schaffer, the event’s campaign coordinator.

Participants will walk in the twilight while holding balloons illuminated by battery-charged light bulbs. Cancer survivors will carry white balloons, while supporters will have red ones.

The walk begins at Stankowski Field, where musical performers, clowns and artists will entertain participants starting at 6 p.m. A minimum donation of $25 is required to participate.

“We are here to celebrate the survivors and commemorate all those who died from these cancers,” said Amber Schewe, a local volunteer coordinator for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Schewe learned about the group when she lost her mother to lymphoma two years ago. She now devotes her time to educating others about this type of cancer.

“We’re really out there just to get the word out to those who one day will need us,” Schewe said.

Alissa Cook, an expected participant in Sunday’s diabetes walk, is a regular at diabetes events in Columbia. Her 3-year-old son, Trenton, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 13 months. Cook is determined to educate others about the disease.

As many as 18.2 million people in the United States are afflicted with diabetes, according to Alecia Robinson, marketing director at the American Diabetes Association’s regional office. Cook has met many of them.

“I will be walking with friends that I’ve made through coming to these events,” she said.

The event will feature free blood pressure and cholesterol screenings as well as a fishing tournament, a presentation by the Boonville Martial Arts Center and complimentary Subway sandwiches.

The annual heart walk, now in its ninth year in Columbia, raises money to help fight the leading cause of death in the nation — cardiovascular disease.

“Our goal for this year is $90,000, but it’s not just about next Saturday,” said Lindsay Rice, regional director at Columbia’s American Heart Association chapter.

The American Heart Association matched the state chapters’ fund-raising efforts of $425,000 with a $9.6 million grant for research and treatment last year, she said.

“We get back more than ten times what we put in,” Rice said.

And it’s not just the thought that counts when it comes to medical advances. Cristena Head, 36, is living proof that research in the field is extending lives.

Head was born with a congenital heart defect that caused her to have a pacemaker inserted at the age of 14. Head now has a mechanical heart valve to pump blood to the rest of her body.

“I look like a perfectly healthy person,” Head said. “But I’ve had two open-heart surgeries within the last year-and-a-half.”

A four-year veteran of the Heart Walk, Head plans to wear a red cap in recognition of her heart condition. Above all, she is walking to raise awareness.

“There are people out there who look like the picture of health and they just don’t know what the risk factors are,” Head said. “It may be your family member, your friend, your son, your daughter.”

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