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Heart Walk raises money for those like Jaxon

The annual American Heart walk is slated for June 5, beginning at The Pavilion in the Detroit Lakes City Park. Register for the event early, or show up and walk the day of the event. A timed run has been added this year, besides the usual 1 mile or 5k walks. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

It’s tough to look around and find somebody who hasn’t been affected by heart issues, whether it be heart disease, defects or strokes.

That’s why community members are once again gearing up to not just raise awareness on the issue, but to walk the walk.

The Lakes Area Heart Walk is taking place Thursday, June 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. starting at the Pavilion down by the City Park.

After a record turnout last year when the walk was changed from a weekend to a weeknight, event organizers are again expecting hundreds of participants.

“Around here, summers get so busy, and so when we changed it to a week night, it just worked out so great,” said Erin Swyter, the team captain for Sanford’s 20-some person team.

Swyter is helping to organize the event this year, which begins at 5 p.m. with registration and speakers.

A DJ will be out there pumping up walkers and runners, as snacks and kids’ games make for a fun-filled event.

“We’ll have a bouncy house out there for the kids, as well as some different games and hula hoops and things,” said Swyter, who says the track this year will go from the Pavilion, up to the Holiday Inn parking lot and back.

The route is set up as either a 1 mile or a 5K.

“And this year they are doing a run, too, where they are having a clock for a timed event,” said Swyter.

Although many teams and individuals have been raising money for the event for several weeks now, Swyter says anybody is welcome to show up for the walk/run.

All money raised from the event goes to the American Heart Association.

Community members have remained pumped about the Detroit Lakes event since 2002 when it started, and many say that’s thanks in part to the brave faces of people with heart issues who step up to the plate.

This year’s most famous little face is once again that of little Jaxon Johnson, last year’s featured heart walk survivor.

His big blue eyes won the “hearts” of many last year with his courageous story of survival, as the now 2½-year-old Detroit Lakes boy is waiting for his third open heart surgery.

Before he was even born, little Jaxon was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – a condition where the left side chambers of the heart do not develop sufficiently enough to pump blood through the body.

Left untreated, babies will die.

But thanks to fast acting doctors and new techniques developed through funding from the American Heart Association, Jaxon is running around like the little mad man his family wants him to be.

“He wears out his grandpa and I,” laughed Kelly Johnson, Jaxon’s grandmother, who is also helping to coordinate the heart walk.

Johnson says although her jibber-jabbering little grandson is doing even better than doctors expected, he still gets tuckered out fairly fast and his fingers will turn blue from lack of blood circulation.

“But once he has that third surgery (next summer), that will go away too,” said Johnson, who admits that sadly, it often takes something happening to somebody close to a person to get them involved with organizations like this.

“People think, well, the American Heart Association is just a big, national thing and my money will be sent off, but a lot of it stays here in our regional chapters to help people right here,” said Johnson, who says her son and his family have been helped tremendously by the American Heart Association.

“They have fingers that stretch way out,” she added. “It hits you on a personal level in a town of 7,000 people, there’s a lot more than just Jax that’s been helped by the heart association.”

This year’s event goal is set at $38,500.

“Heart disease in women is the No. 1 killer,” said Johnson. “This walk is just a way to get out, get more informed about what you can do to prevent it…and plus it’s just a really fun event.”

Johnson says in addition to learning more about how to prevent heart issues and strokes, the heart walk is also a time for community members to get together and connect over an issue that affects so many.

“Last year the Shriners were out there, and so many people from the community were out showing their support for my son and his family – it was just so heartwarming,” said Johnson.

For more information on the Lakes Area Heart Walk, log on to