Mail Tribune photos / Steve Johnson

For some, Saturday's walk was more than a casual stroll

Misty Herzog thought she knew a lot about heart disease after her stepfather had open-heart surgery three years ago. Turned out she didn't know much at all.

I thought it was something older people had, said Herzog, of Eagle Point. I never thought about it being something that kids and babies could have.??

Least of all, her own baby.

Then, seven months ago, Herzog gave birth to Tre. He had a heart defect that led to congestive heart failure three months later.

At just over — months old, Tre had to undergo heart surgery.

Without the corrective operation, Tre would have died, Herzog is certain. Instead, she said, he is normal, he's the picture of health.

To make others aware of the lessons she's learned about heart disease and its treatment, Herzog joined more than 1,000 people in downtown Medford on Saturday for the First American Heart Walk. The 3-mile walk was intended to raise money and public awareness of heart ailments, and commemorate community booster Patti Bills.

Bills, who invented Medford mascot Huggy Bear, died a year ago, at age 62, after a long battle with lung cancer and two strokes.

Her husband, Bob Bills, chairs the local heart association, and organized the walk.

To the Dixieland sounds of the Medford Jazz Jubilee, which continues today across Medford, walkers made their morning circuit and cheered one another at the finish line in Vogel Park.

At the middle of the pack, Herzog pushed Tre in his stroller, his cheeks flush in the morning chill. Alongside walked Herzog's stepfather, Don Fraughton.

Anything to get more money for research and education so little guys like him don't have to go through it, said Fraughton, a respiratory therapist at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

With more research, said Fraughton and Herzog, less invasive treatments and surgeries might be developed to spare patients the trauma of open-heart operations.

Such possibilities seem realistic to Herzog after seeing her son's life so changed by what already has been accomplished in medical technology.

Without the research, he wouldn't have lived, she said. There was no treatment like this for babies 20 years ago.

The American Heart Walk in Memory of Patti Bills is intended to be an annual event coinciding with the Jubilee, which Bills helped found 12 years ago. Herzog and Fraughton said they would be happy to walk again.