By Amy Kehm
Julie Walker is a mom on a mission to help heal her heart while also helping to heal other hearts.
In November 2013, her 19-year-old daughter, Peyton, a sophomore at Kings College in Wilkes Barre, collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). She had been getting ready to go to her job as a scribe in a hospital emergency department when her own emergency occurred. Peyton’s roommate quickly found her, but it was too late.
“SCA strikes without warning and is usually fatal if not treated immediately,” Walker explains.
Peyton’s SCA was caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). According to the Mayo Clinic, HCM is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes extremely thick making it tough to pump blood. It often goes undiagnosed due to little or no symptoms but can also cause irregular heartbeats, obstructed blood flow and heart failure.
The Walker family knew that Peyton had HCM. She was seeing a cardiologist, seemed to be doing fine and did not let her condition limit her.
“She lived life to the fullest and never failed to find fun. She was always looking for new adventures,” explains Walker. “My mom says that Peyton saw something in everyday life that the rest of us failed to see. She truly found a way to enjoy each moment…making people laugh, giving a hug to that one person who really needed it, offering support to the ‘loner.’”
Just a few months after Peyton died, Walker created the Peyton Walker Foundation in her daughter’s memory. The mission is “Increasing awareness and survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest incidents through education, screenings and training.”
“We knew we couldn’t ‘do nothing,’” says Walker. “She was so committed to working in the health care field. This was our way of carrying out her wishes. Although she is not physically here to work in the health care field, incredible things are being accomplished on her behalf.”
The foundation conducts heart screenings of area youth along with PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute and screened nearly 400 children in 2015. As a result of those screenings, there were six significant findings as well as identification of 30 additional students who were referred for follow-ups.
The Peyton Walker Foundation has offered automated external defibrillator (AED) and CPR training to everyone who attended the heart screenings and has hosted an AED- and CPR-certification training class as well as donated AED’s to Trinity High School.
The foundation has donated nearly $15,000 for the purchase of an innovative training manikin for the physician-assistant program at King’s College and has awarded $20,000 in scholarship funds for students enrolled in the program.
According to Walker, doing such things in Peyton’s memory allows her to “pay it forward” for the support she has received after the loss of her daughter.
“If we can spare even one family from the burden and heartache of losing a child to SCA, all of our efforts will be worthwhile.”
For more information on how to help, visit peytonwalker.org. On Friday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m., the Peyton Walker Foundation will host The Beat Goes On Under The Stars event at Historic Acres of Hershey. The evening will feature local wineries and breweries, upscale food, entertainment, a silent auction and more.
Amy Kehm knows the good in people. She is the host and producer of Good Day PA on abc27.