GREENFIELD — Wilma Johnson just thought she was tired.

The 74-year-old Greenfield resident didn’t have any other symptoms when she had a simple cardiac scan at a low-cost health fair in 2009.

Her husband, Paul, urged her to get it done. He was the one experiencing chest pain and thought they could get the test together.

That scan saved her life, she said.

When doctors looked at the scan, they immediately saw there was a problem. Even Johnson, who has no medical background, could see the significant blockage in the arteries of her heart.

Now Johnson, in support of the American Heart Association HeartChase event, is advocating for others to be aware of their heart health.

HeartChase is a local fundraiser whose mission is twofold: raising funds for the American Heart Association and encouraging healthy living.

Johnson’s success story is one the American Heart Association is sharing while promoting the event.

After learning she suffered from cardiovascular disease in 2009, Johnson immediately underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. She learned she had no time to spare.

“The doctors said I would have died without the surgery,” she said. “That test saved my life.”

Heart disease runs in her family. Her father died from a heart attack, and three siblings had heart disease.

But like many patients who have no symptoms, she thought she was healthy. Today, she tells others to be proactive when it comes to heart health.

“I should have been wise enough to have the test before,” she said. “You don’t have to feel bad to have a problem.”

The HeartChase fundraiser, scheduled for May 16, features a challenge organizers say is a cross between “Minute to Win It” and “The Amazing Race.” Participating teams will race to complete timed challenges set up at checkpoints throughout the community.

The checkpoints will feature challenges that revolve around the organization’s mission to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

There’s no fee to enter, but teams are encouraged to raise money leading up to the event and are rewarded during the contest for having done so. Teams that meet certain fundraising goals are given advantages aimed at putting them ahead of their competitors.

The contest is fast-moving to encourage physical activity, though participants aren’t required to run. The entire course is a mile long, and the challenges aren’t meant to be too difficult to complete, just fun, organizers said.

Carmen Parker, corporate events director for the American Heart Association, is helping local organizers plan the event.

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have ideal heart health, according to the American Heart Association. Working to prevent cardiovascular disease can improve that statistic, Parker said.

It’s important for residents to be aware of their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index. And it’s important they know how their physical activity, diet and lifestyle affect their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. 

“It’s always been about prevention; and if I can help one person make a lifestyle change, whatever that is, that’s really why I do what I do,” Parker said.

Helping host the event to encourage heart health in Hancock County also is important to organizer Carrie Stidham, for whom the cause is personal.

A close friend of Stidham’s died from heart disease. He spent several years waiting for a heart transplant that might have saved his life.

“I’m sure everybody in their life has had somebody with a heart-related illness,” she said. “I want to help the American Heart Association improve our society.”

Last year was the first time for the event in Hancock County. It saw about 50 community members participate and raised more than $20,000.

Organizers hope to see more community members participate this year. They want to raise additional funds, which are used for research, public health education, community services and professional education and training.

Parker said that, because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Indiana, the association is always working to connect with communities about prevention, and the HeartChase event is a fun way to do so.

Johnson hopes the event will spread awareness about the disease and encourage people to take responsibility for their health.

“If I can save someone’s life,” she said, “it’s worth it.”

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Hancock County HeartChase, an event sponsored by the American Heart Association, is scheduled for May 16. Registration begins at 9 a.m. at Hancock Regional Hospital. The race starts at 9:30 a.m.

To form a team and sign up, visit honor.americanheart.org/heartchasehancockcountyin.

Raising money earns game advantages, with every $250 raised giving teams a leg up on opponents.

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  • In 2012, more than 18,000 people in Indiana died from cardiovascular diseases.
  • In Hancock County, nearly 29 percent of deaths in 2012 were related to those diseases, which include strokes and heart attacks.
  • Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have ideal heart health.
  • For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week.

Source: American Heart Association