Jen Hyde is a Brooklyn resident and was named a Go Red For Women 2017 – 2018 Real Women.

The American Heart Association’s 2018 Brooklyn Heart Walk will take place this coming weekend. On Sunday, Brooklynites will come together to raise money for heart health research and honor survivors of heart disease. We’ll raise awareness that it’s the leading cause of death in America, and remind our community that 80% of those deaths may be preventable if we take physical, emotional, and political action.

For me, the Heart Walk also symbolizes autumn’s arrival. More than the first day of a new semester or an overly-sweet pumpkin spiced latte, I take in the crisp morning air and folks around me dressed in t-shirts honoring the friend or family member they’re walking for. The day reminds me that September is a month of seasonal transition, and that maintaining my own health and helping other folks maintain theirs is an evolving challenge.

Jen and son, Reyner. Photo by Patrick Delorey

In 2010, I underwent heart valve replacement surgery. I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart defect. I’d undergone my first surgery when I was two. After I turned 18, I stopped making annual visits to my cardiologist because each year after my operation I’d received a clean bill of health.

When I was 25, my mom insisted that I see a cardiologist to confirm that I was still, indeed, healthy. Instead, I learned that my heart had enlarged, that I was six months shy of heart failure, and that heart valve replacement surgery could prevent it. I received a bovine valve. It will need to be repaired in time, but until then I do not take medication and enjoy my active lifestyle. Five months ago, I even gave birth to my first baby—a curious and healthy boy.

I’m fortunate that my valve repair was preventative, and I know that my experience is exceedingly rare. This is why my personal commitment to my own health, and to raising awareness for women’s heart research is now a family affair.

A few nights ago, I explained to my son that after he goes to sleep I’m right outside his door, preparing my dinner and his breakfast. I run a load of his laundry and pick up our house. I told him it’s necessary that he get a good night’s rest so that he can grow to be big and strong. I want him to develop the mental faculties to make healthy choices, and to find the causes he’s passionate about. And I know that as he grows up, I’ll need to find new ways to teach him these lessons.

This year, we won’t be at the Brooklyn Heart Walk at MCU Park in Coney Island because my son is a little too young and sleeps a little too frequently in the daytime. I do love the heart walk, but I know that renewing my commitment to my health truly resides in the daily efforts we can make to move more, eat better, and encourage one another to do the same. It isn’t always easy to maintain that commitment, which is why the walk is a beautiful activity to participate in if you can. I’ll be thinking about you, my fellow Brooklynites, from my Greenpoint apartment on Sunday. Regardless of whether or not you can also make it, I hope that you’ll lace up your shoes and embrace autumn on foot in many of the days to follow. Happy heart walk, and happy fall!