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When Gracie McMinn gets tired of walking during the Heart Walk, her dad carries her the rest of the way. Gracie loves cheerleading and is learning to play tennis.
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 22, 2011 8 years ago

Young survivors share their heartfelt stories

by: Mallory Gnaegy A&E Editor

Ten-year-old McLain Miller has a scar down the center of her chest. She calls it “her zipper.” When she was an infant, doctors performed three open-heart surgeries on her. Although she is “zipped up” now, she is expecting to need a valve replacement in the future, and that thought can be scary to her.

“But, sometimes I forget I have problems,” she says.

McLain will be reminded of what she has overcome at Saturday’s 19th annual three-mile Sarasota/Manatee Heart Walk. The walk takes place at 7:30 a.m. at Payne Park. People can walk in honor of someone in their lives who has been affected by heart disease or just to support the cause. There’s also a one-mile option available for those who can’t walk three miles.

Team McLain, consisting of McLain’s friends and family, has been walking with her since she was old enough to walk in the event.

McLain and other victims of heart disease wear red hats during the walk.

The Heart Walk is the AHA’s signature fundraising event. The goal is to raise $180,000 through donations at this year’s event.

More Americans die annually from heart disease than any other disease.

“They raise money so that they can research heart disease so people like me won’t be sick from it anymore,” McLain says.

Six-year-old Gracie McMinn could have her own team for the Heart Walk but chooses to walk for the team, “Kathy’s Beating Hearts,” in honor of a family friend who died. She has her own team for March of Dimes.

Gracie was a 24-week preemie.

“I had a heart problem; doctors tried to close my heart because it was open,” she says.

And, like McLain, she hardly ever thinks about it. If it weren’t for being an advocate for healthy hearts for elementary students in the area, people wouldn’t know she had heart history at all.

Gracie talks about her heart and teaches kids the importance of getting regular exercise during the “Jump Rope for Heart” event. She’s fearless and speaks in front of entire schools. Her message is, “Exercise, eat healthy and no smoking!”

Visit to make a donation or to learn more about the event.

“Come join us!” McLain says. “You don’t even need to be on a team.”

Sarasota/Manatee Heart Walk
What: Activities begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, and the three-mile walk starts at 8:30 a.m. at Payne Park. There is no cost to walk, but donations are accepted.
Info: Visit

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