One family takes fighting cardiac disease to ‘heart’

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Cardiac health is something that the Henry family takes to “heart.”


When Bill Henry had to undergo surgery recently to fix his ailing ticker, it was his daughter Kelly who helped him work through it.


“The biggest piece of advice I told him was, ‘Don’t let statistics tell you what’s going to happen,’” Kelly Henry said.


Most teenagers would be at a loss for how to deal with something as dramatic as a serious cardiac operation. But for Kelly, surviving heart surgeries is something she’s been doing for as long as she could remember.


Kelly Henry, 17, a senior at Peters Township High School, underwent her first surgery when she was just 6 months old. She was born with a condition called mitral stenosis, which caused the mitral valve in her heart to constrict.


“I was given my last rites three times before my first birthday,” Kelly said. “I kept getting pneumonia and would turn blue. Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me.”


After her pediatrician diagnosed her problem, Bill and his wife, Gloria, were given a very tough decision regarding their daughter.


“My parents had the choice to pull the plug or opt for a surgery with a 25 percent chance of survival,” Kelly said. “None of the doctors thought I would survive. Luckily, they chose to go for it.”


Kelly survived that first operation – and many more in the following years – and is now a strong advocate for the American Heart Association. She was recently named co-chair for the annual Washington Heart Walk fundraising event, along with her father.


Kelly’s parents have been volunteering for the American Heart Association for years – Gloria is a member of the Washington branch’s board. But this year’s Heart Walk, to be held Oct. 6 at Consol Energy Park in Washington, should prove to be an especially memorable event for Bill.


This will mark almost two years since Bill underwent and survived a risky operation to correct congestive heart failure. It will also fall on his 52nd birthday.


“It definitely brings things home,” Bill Henry said. “It makes you realize how fortunate you are to have the health care we do. Otherwise, I don’t think either of us would be here.”


Bill Henry, CEO of Southwestern Group, said his recent experience surviving a heart condition has made him a more motivated volunteer.


“If our efforts through fundraising can save one family from going through what we had to go through, it will be worth it,” he said.


Kelly has been working hard to excite other young people to get involved. She said she persuaded her coworkers at Harry’s Pizza to donate their time to work at the event and hopes to see many of her friends from school getting involved.


So far, the heart walk has reached $43,000 in donations toward its $100,000 fundraising goal. They hope to get to their target with help from a kickoff event at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Waterdam Plaza in McMurray and through donations on the day of the walk.


Kelly’s dedication to fighting cardiac disease does not stop with her fundraising efforts. In order to help alleviate the types of conditions that have affected her family, Kelly wants to become a cardiologist. She said she hopes to start her pre-medical studies at Pitt or Duquesne University next fall.


“I grew up always being in the hospital for surgeries and check-ups,” Kelly said. “I fell in love with the idea of being a cardiologist when I was small. I could walk the hallways and see the difference they were making.


“I decided that I wanted to be a cardiologist and help kids myself.”


For more information on how to get involved in the Heart Walk or Heart Bash fundraising events, visit www.heart.org/washingtonwalk or email washington.ahw@heart.org.


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