Around Town: Healthy hearts are just one notable goal of North Side park walk

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It's just a walk in the park, no big whoop, but it honors a pretty special guy and is in keeping with his family's trade and passion: healthy hearts.

The eighth annual Hearts in the Park Walk will be held this Saturday morning in Allegheny Commons Park, which has been Allegheny General Hospital's front yard since forever.

It's in memory of Dr. James Anthony Magovern, a cardiothoracic surgeon who died of kidney cancer four years ago at 52. His older brother, Dr. George Magovern Jr., also a cardiothoracic surgeon, now chairs the event his brother spearheaded. Their father, Dr. George Magovern Sr., who still has an office in the hospital and revolutionized heart surgery a half-century ago by developing artificial valves, will blow the horn that starts the walk.

"His wheels were always turning," Dinean Miller said of the late Dr. Magovern, whom she served as executive secretary for 17 years. "He was full of ideas, and he was worried about childhood obesity."

So he came up with this leisurely, family-friendly (and dog-friendly) circuitous two-mile walk through this blessedly flat park. Students from Martin Luther King and Allegheny Traditional Academy, the public elementary schools that hug the park, long have flocked to the event that also draws hospital workers and North Side neighbors.

An event that began with just 75 walkers has grown to roughly 400, maybe because "it doesn't have to be that dreaded word, 'exercise,' " said Lori Dernus, senior manager of the department of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.

It's flat fun.

Anne Kelly, health and physical education teacher at Allegheny Traditional Academy, said the annual Jumpathon there recently raised more than $2,000 for the American Heart Association through pledges to children who jumped rope. What's special about the park walk is it gets people to exercise with their children.

Nine families have signed up at the school thus far, but there are always late entries and walk-ups on the day of the event. The children get pumped up by home room teachers with pedometers to record the children's steps for a month; last year, as a school, they compiled enough miles to walk from Pittsburgh to Orlando, Fla.

"I think my brother [James] spearheaded that whole effort," Dr. Magovern Jr. said. "He tried to raise awareness of exercise and heart disease in children and get behind the effort to change diets and exercise more."

Before that, "there wasn't a lot of cross-pollination between the hospital and schools," he said. "Lori [Dernus] has picked up where he left off."

The Magoverns are legendary surgeons inextricably tied to AGH, yet the elder Dr. Magovern never walked the park until the first Hearts in the Park Walk in 2004. Dr. Magovern Jr. has often wondered why the park wasn't more part of the hospital.

"You walk across the street and there you are," he said.

So this walk works on multiple levels. It knits together the hospital, the North Side and neighborhood schools. It promotes exercise in children and adults. It raises money for research at the Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute and for restoration of the park.

Everyone from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to the Pirate Parrot will be there at 9 a.m. for the releasing of doves by the National Aviary. There's a requested donation of $25 per person or $75 for families, but nobody is turned away. Entrants may pay with cash, money orders or checks payable to Allegheny General Hospital with "Heart Walk" on the memo line.

Almost no American event comes without a free T-shirt anymore, and this walk is no different. Children will get prizes on completion, and each family will get one free individual admission to the nearby Children's Museum.

Brian O'Neill: or 412-263-1947.


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