Katie Ford, of Jacksonville, Florida, watched first-hand as heart disease – America’s #1 killer – began to affect the men in her own family, starting in 2010.  Ford is a radiology employee at Mayo Clinic, where she’s worked for 35 years.

The disease touched both Ford’s father as well as her husband, inspiring a newfound passion for community outreach on heart disease.

Before this January, Ford’s 74-year-old father hadn’t been to a doctor’s office his entire adult life.  Ford’s mother was fortunately able to convince him it was time for a preventive check-up.  During that visit, his physician immediately identified issues with his cardiovascular health.

“The doctor didn’t like the way his heart sounded. It sounded really slow. They did a heart catheter on him and found he was 75 percent blocked. The doctor said he was a ticking time bomb for a heart attack,” Ford said. Doctors performed surgery to insert a stent and since then, he’s been doing fine.

The other man in Ford’s life – her husband Marrion – also opened her eyes to the sudden havoc heart disease can inflict on one’s life.  Ford and her husband, Marrion, were preparing to go out for a movie in 2010 when he suddently collapsed.

“I was on the floor with him, and my mom was here and she called 911. I was scared to death, just horrified,” she said. The couple had been married for 24 years.

Mayo Clinic doctors found that her husband had an aortic aneurysm that was too small to repair but was in need of close monitoring. Since that day, her husband is checked every six months at Mayo to make sure the aneurysm hasn’t grown to a life-endangering size.  To help ensure the best outcome should surgery for his aneurysm ever become necessary, Ford’s husband has lost 100 pounds!

Ford admits that her husband’s wait-and-see situation has been very stressful.

“I’ve gotten better in the last year. My supervisor at work would tell me (early on) that ‘He’s going to be fine and you’re going to be dead from stress,’” she said. So, she decided to give her stress an outlet by channeling her competitive nature.  She has poured her heart into raising money and awareness for cardiovascular health in Florida.

Ford isn’t shy to spread that message to anyone who will listen or consider donating to the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Walk.

“When the Heart Walk came up, I was all over it. We needed to raise money for education and research,” Ford said. “Every year, I get so excited around (Heart Walk) time. I try to raise more money than anyone else. I tell my coworkers to save their change for what I call Spare Change Friday. Most of the Mayo radiologists are very generous,” she smiles.

“It really adds up!” she said.

Indeed. She’s raised more than $13,000 over the past three years and is Mayo Clinic’s top Florida fundraiser.

Ford is always championing the American Heart Association message “Know Your Numbers!”  She explains that all people should know their numbers, specifically, your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight in order to prevent heart disease and stroke.

In addition to the drive she derives from own family’s experience with heart disease, Katie Ford says her advocacy efforts are fueled by the incredibly courageous and inspiring patients she cares for at Mayo Clinic.

For more information, see MayoClinic.org
More from NewsOne