February is known as American Heart Month - and that’s not just a reference to Valentine’s Day. In fact, former president Lyndon B. Johnson declared February as American Heart month in 1963 as a way to remind Americans to focus on their hearts and encourage them to get their families, friends and communities involved.
According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. One in four (or 610,000) deaths are related to heart disease in the U.S. each year. While the numbers are staggering, employees at Duke Energy have worked hard to help raise awareness. The American Heart Association’s annual Heart Walk is one way employees are getting involved. The walk has become a signature fundraising opportunity for company employees like Rich Pacetti.
Rich, an employee at Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, N.C., is no stranger to the impact heart disease has on a family. Like many others throughout the company, Rich and his family were personally affected by the disease.
We recently sat down with Rich to learn more about his connection to the American Heart Association and the impact he’s made at McGuire and in the surrounding community.
Q. What is the Heart Walk?
A. The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s signature fundraising event, and a way to promote physical activity and heart-healthy living in a fun, family environment. The walk supports AHA’s mission of “building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke."
Q. When did you start the Heart Walk at McGuire?
A. McGuire formed its first heart walk team in 2008. We started with one team and 16 walkers. In 2009, I served as the team lead and recruited multiple team leaders to represent the various departments at McGuire – this significantly increased our fundraising results. We raised about $6,000 when we first started in 2008. Each year, we saw the support from our teammates continue to grow. This past year, McGuire teammates donated more than $18,500. In addition to supporting the walk financially, a number of teammates are engaged in the walk, either as team leads and/or walkers. To date, we’ve had about 420 walkers participate in the annual Heart Walk in September, who have raised nearly $200,000.
Q. How have you been personally affected by heart disease?
A. My grandfather passed away of a heart attack when I was just a baby. I never got to meet him, so this hits close to home for me. In 2016, my aunt passed away from a heart attack. Seven years ago, my uncle had a heart attack, but fortunately survived. Since I began leading the heart walk efforts at McGuire, I’ve met several people who have been affected by heart disease or stroke. I take this seriously. Not only do I want to be around to see my grandchildren one day, but I want all of my teammates I work with to be there for their loved ones, too.
Q. What made you start the drive at McGuire?
A. Duke Energy as a company had been (and still is) a huge supporter of the Heart Walk for many years, but the company’s nuclear sites were underrepresented. Our chief nuclear officer at the time was a proponent of the Heart Walk and valued the efforts of the American Heart Association. I decided to lead the McGuire team because I understood how important this cause was, having been affected by it personally, and meeting others who have, as well.
Here’s an example from a fellow employee about why she supports the walk.
“In November 2013, my father had a massive heart attack on a Sunday evening. He had no prior history of heart issues so it came as a surprise. Tests showed he had vascular heart disease…a genetic form of heart disease which also happens to be the number one killer of women. My sister and I were both immediately put on a “watch list” with our doctor. Just this past July, my paternal grandmother, who also suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s, passed away from a massive heart attack while in the hospital recovering from a fall. While we believe her heart attack was due to extreme stress, she had suffered from heart issues in the past. I give to the American Heart Association because there is a very real chance their research can aid in the advancement of technology that could very well save my dad’s life (again), my sister’s life or my own life.”