Heart Walk celebrates even the smallest survivors

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SARASOTA - We typically associate heart problems with older people. But sometimes it happens at birth, leading to lifelong heart issues. Next week's Sarasota-Manatee Heart Walk will raise money for research and support -- and celebrate survivors like Olivia.

Olivia is six years old and loves to play. Her mom calls her a tomboy, saying she has no time for princesses. She'd much rather explore the expansive circus-themed playground at Sarasota's Payne Park.

After she was born, doctors discovered she had a serious heart defect. Her parents were in shock. “One of the first questions was ‘is she going to die?’ We had no idea, we had no idea that they could do surgery and fix it…just amazing," says Olivia’s mom, Jaime Masengale.

At just six weeks old, Olivia had open heart surgery.

Her parents credit a support group called "Mended Little Hearts" for helping them through a very tough time. “It was so wonderful, because people that weren't in the hospital with their children were there, and their little four year olds running around that had had multiple heart surgeries and they were living and they were having fun, and they were normal kids. And it was just such a blessing because we were so scared."

Now Jamie leads that support group, helping other parents dealing with the frightening reality of congenital heart defects.

And while Olivia will face more surgeries in the future, she hopes other kids will have an easier road, thanks to research and support from the American Heart Association.

You can help by buying a heart at area Subway restaurants. Just look for the poster featuring Olivia and Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis.

Olivia is grateful for your support. And she'll be at next week's Heart Walk with a large group of supporters, and we hope to see you there as well. It happens Saturday, September 22nd, at Sarasota's Payne Park. Activities get underway at 7:30am, and the walk starts at 8:30am.

For more information, go to sarasotamanateeheartwalk.org.