By Wendy Sarubbi | September 8, 2014 2:54 pm

More than 20,000 walkers gathered at the UCF main campus September 6 and so far raised more than $1 million to combat heart disease, the leading cause of death for both American men and women, accounting for more than 600,000 deaths every year.

The Greater Orlando Heart Walk is one of more than 400 events nationwide to raise money for heart disease treatment and research, and UCF walkers raised a total of nearly $37,500 – making them the third-highest fundraising group at the event.

Heart Walk participants were up bright and early to begin the 8 a.m. walk. Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UCF College of Medicine, led the UCF fundraising effort. She walked with her 85-year-old father, Pat Campano, who, thanks to cardiac research has survived congestive heart failure and valve disease.

“It was great to see the support from students, faculty and staff,” said College of Medicine Events Coordinator Mary Howard, who organized the medical school’s Walk Team. “We exceeded our goal of 25 walkers, so it was really nice to see everyone out there.” First-time walker and College of Medicine Administrative Services Coordinator Devan Santora said the walk was a great way to meet other members of the UCF community outside of work. “Anything that brings people together and raises money for a great cause is really awesome,” she said.

College of Medicine researchers at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences have received grant funding from the American Heart Association and other organizations fighting heart disease. One of the Burnett school’s areas of focus is cardiac disease, and researchers there are looking at a variety of potential therapies, including the use of stem cells to repair diseased hearts and the healthiest cooking oils for heart health.

Medical students were also in attendance at the walk, including third-year student, Christin Giordano, who raised $100 for the College of Medicine team. “Heart disease is a major killer and I’ve seen it affecting more and more patients at younger and younger ages,” said Giordano. “It’s important that we, as future physicians, live as a good example for our patients.”

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