PAUL AND Robin Huston of Sheffield Township walk their dog, Yuki, through the starting line area of the Ashtabula Start Heart Walk, Sunday, at Kent State University-Ashtabula campus.

The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

ASHTABULA — Hot, sunny weather wasn’t the only cause of warm feelings Sunday as hundreds of people gathered to raise money to fight heart disease.

More than 400 people took to the roads of Saybrook Township and Ashtabula to raise more than $97,000 for heart research.

A national program to urge people to get more exercise through walking was added to the Heart Walk this year, according to organizers.

“We are here to celebrate lifestyle changes,” said Melissa Lambert of the American Heart Association, which helped organize the event with area sponsors, including the Ashtabula County Medical Center and the UH-Geneva and Conneaut medical centers.

Lambert said a large group of people from the two area University hospitals joined the walking program and many already have lost weight.

“It’s a new movement to get America walking,” she said.

Heart-attack survivors received red hats to denote their success in fighting the disease, Lambert said.

Walter Gee, 68, of Ashtabula, said he survived two heart attacks and still is working full time. He said he had his first heart attack in 1988 and the second in 1996. Gee said he also exercised a lot but he smoked.

“I think a lot of it was stress,” he said of the first heart attack.

A change in eating habits and getting more exercise has helped Gee stay healthy.

A variety of booths were available for participants to peruse before and after the one and three-mile walks.

Kevin Miller, volunteer chairman of the 2007 Heart Walk, kicked things off, thanking sponsors and participants.

“We are going to be saving many lives,” he said of the fund-raising and exercise-promotion events.

Laurie Delgado, chief executive officer of Geneva and Conneaut medical centers, encouraged participants to continue to walk.

“Walking is the best exercise. People who start walking tend to continue walking,” she said.

“Our efforts have exceeded our goal of $97,000,” Miller said prior to the walk. Lambert said the final totals will be available later in the week.

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