Excerpt from the Spring 2022 issue of The Extension
The American Heart Association named WSURA board member Gail Whitaker a “Woman of Impact” for 2022, a title conferred on four women in the Dayton area who have been exceptional fundraisers. They conducted a friendly competition to see who could raise the most money and contribute most to awareness about heart disease prevention. The nine-week competition ended on April 7. An overall goal was to educate the public about the best ways to avoid heart disease: know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.); healthy eating; exercise; mental health; and CPR training. Gail posted this information to her Facebook page, sent emails, and wrote letters.
In 2008, Gail’s younger daughter Katie was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and ventricular tachycardia when she was a young mother raising two children. She feared she might not live to see them safely to adulthood. There was a history of heart disease in the family; both Gail’s father and his sisters had mitral valve issues in their later years. Her doctors have speculated that her heart disease may have been congenital, the result of a difficult childbirth, or caused by a virus. To help counteract her anxiety, Katie joined a support group. There she met the executive director of the local Heart Association who wanted her to speak at the board of directors meeting. There she met our fellow retiree, Larry Prochaska, who became active after he received multiple grants from the Heart Association to help fund research projects. He served a term as chair of the board of directors.
Katie decided she wanted to participate in a Heart Walk and recruited her mother and other family members and a few friends to accompany her. That year she raised $2,000. Katie’s team for the 2019 walk consisted of 45 people and raised over $70,000. Gail’s husband, Guest, died suddenly and unexpectedly in August 2019 from a stroke. That year’s Fifth Third Field Heart Walk was dedicated to him.
Gail has become increasingly involved in the Heart Association over the years. Gail serves on a Passion Committee and is a regular attendee at the Go Red for Women Luncheon. One year the Heart Association made a family video at Gail’s house, which was shown at the luncheon. She lobbied successfully in Columbus for a House Bill that offered CPR instruction for high school students. She got involved because of her personal family situation, but her contributions resonate around the state. She really can’t help being a Woman of Impact. It’s in her nature.