October 26, 2001

Heart Walk boosts funding, research

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Nursing school student Julia Miller listens to Bill Rochford's lungs during a training exercise for family nurse practitioner students. Rochford, director of client and community relations, recently had bypass surgery, and volunteered to be a patient for the nursing students. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Heart Walk boosts funding, research

The Heart Walk will be held Sunday, Oct. 28 along this route.

The Heart Walk will be held Sunday, Oct. 28 along this route.

It all happened so fast, Bill Rochford recalled.

Five months ago, Rochford, director of Client and Community Relations for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. Feeling periodic chest pains, he called his physician, who advised him to take an aspirin and come into the office the next morning upon his return to Nashville.

“I was at the airport in Baltimore and felt chest pains,” Rochford said. “I wanted to get my meeting out of the way and get back home. I told my doctor I was having classic symptoms— pressure on the chest, shooting pain down my left arm and perfuse sweating.

“But when I was resting, the symptoms resolved.”

Within hours of his appointment the next day, Rochford was being prepped for open-heart surgery.

“I went to that appointment not wanting to tell my family anything about what was going on,” Rochford said. “We were preparing for our family vacation. I didn’t want to upset my family and bother them with this. I was hoping the doctor would write a prescription to take care of the problem.

“But after my doctor requested I have an arteriogram, I knew I needed to contact my wife. From there it all unfolded so fast. The next thing I know, Dr. David Hansen was showing me a spot on the TV monitor of a 95 percent blockage of the left main artery.”

By noon Rochford was being wheeled to the OR for a triple bypass. He was discharged home after four days. He said the resources of the American Heart Association really came in handy at that time.

“The Vanderbilt team and the AHA have so much data and resources to help families cope with all the aspects of understanding heart disease,” Rochford said. “The staff also helps families understand the physical and emotional changes occurring within the patient.

“What is so wonderful is the research,” he said. “After what I went through and to be home in four days, it’s because of the new technology and new medications. It’s just amazing.”

Rochford said he was grateful to all the physicians and nurses who cared for him in the hospital as well as the team of professionals at the Kim Dayani Center, who guided him through the cardiac rehab program.

In the past Rochford has participated in the Heart Walk, a non-competitive event geared to raising awareness and funds to fight heart disease and stroke. He admits that he didn’t pay very much attention to the importance of what he was doing.

Thousands of people participate in the American Heart Walk nationwide. Last year, Nashville’s walk saw more than 7,000 walkers, with nearly 1,000 from Vanderbilt.

The American Heart Walk is becoming one of the nation’s fastest-growing walking events.

In its third year of hosting the walk, Vanderbilt topped the charts in fund-raising efforts. The Nashville walk is ranked No. 8 in all size markets for income and moved up the scale to No. 2 within its size market for monies raised. Vanderbilt also was listed as the 10th highest income-raising company in the U.S.

On Oct. 28 Rochford will be hitting the pavement with an understanding that what he is doing is making a difference in the lives of millions. He will serve as a Red Cap representative (a symbol of survivorship) and as a Vanderbilt team captain.

“My interest is being able to raise awareness,” he said. “Although bypass is major surgery and a big deal, with help you can get back on track and continue your life. I truly feel like I am better off today because I am healthier and more aware of my diet and exercise.

“I want to raise money to help families stay intact. Research, education and training are the key to improving the health care picture of America.

“I’m lucky to be a survivor. One of the things I’ve learned — a patient’s attitude is an important element in the recovery and rehabilitation process. I wanted to regain control of my life.”

Working in a health care environment has allowed Rochford to pay more attention to the work both researchers and medical staff focus on. He now has a better appreciation for it.

He is quick to note that without the work of the AHA, researchers and the commitment of today’s health care professionals, the nearly 60 million Americans affected by cardiovascular disease may not be able to celebrate life.

“Life is such a gift,” Rochford said. “Life is to be protected. Doctors give us warning signs and guides for healthy living and most of us ignore it. There are so many who lost their lives to this disease.”

Rochford said he now carries a hidden badge of honor, one he said signifies victory.

“These are scars I wear without embarrassment,” he said referring to the nearly foot-long scar on his chest and two-foot scars down his right and left arms. “I am proud of these scars because without these, I’d be in my grave.”