Every year, Katie Ford, who works at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, can be found with a plastic jar and a stack of donation envelopes, encouraging colleagues to support the activities of the American Heart Association. In particular, she urges them to sign up for the annual First Coast Heart Walk, which Mayo Clinic sponsors.
Heart disease runs in Ford's family, which is why she's so passionate about supporting the cause and spreading the word about cardiovascular health.
Although he was 74-years-old, Ford's father hadn't been to a doctor's office his entire adult life. When her mother was able to convince him it was time for a checkup, his doctors immediately identified issues.
"The doctor found he was 75 percent blocked and said he was a ticking time bomb for a heart attack," Katie says. Her dad received a stent, and all was well for a number of years. However, his condition progressed, and he had a pacemaker and defibrillator installed in August 2014.
Katie's sister also was recently diagnosed with a heart condition and received a stent.
The impact of heart disease really hit home for Katie a few years ago, in 2010, when her husband of 24 years, Marrion, suddenly collapsed as the couple was preparing for a night out.
"I was on the floor with him, and my mom was here, and she called 911," Katie says. "I was scared to death — just horrified."
Doctors at Mayo Clinic found that her husband had an aortic aneurysm. They opted to take a watchful, waiting approach.
Katie knew a healthier lifestyle would help them both. She and her family began to focus on small changes, including dietary adjustments. Together, the Fords have lost 180 pounds.
Recognizing the pervasiveness of heart disease and her competitive spirit, Katie channeled her energy into raising money and awareness for cardiovascular health.
"I try to raise more money than anyone else. I tell my co-workers to save their change for what I call Spare Change Friday. Most of my colleagues are very generous," she says with a smile. "Heart health affects so many. We have to raise awareness and education to help reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke."
And, it adds up. Katie has been one of the top fundraisers for Team Mayo Clinic for the past several years, raising more than $20,000 in support of the American Heart Association.
Over the past 40 years, Mayo Clinic has received more than $30 million from the American Heart Association for research related to heart disease and stroke. Several physicians and researchers across the institution have received funds to further their research. The organization is the largest private funder of heart disease research.