You May Be Saving a Life: Dean Denise A. Seachrist on Why It's Important to Take Part in the 2021 Stark County Heart Walk

Kent State Stark is proud to host the 2021 Stark County Heart Walk on Sept. 18.

Susan Seachrist lived for just two decades, but during that time, she inspired a community to come together to provide another chance at life. And while she died during her third open heart surgery in 1962, Susan’s memory lives on.

Today, Dean Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., will help lead the 2021 Stark County Heart Walk as part of its Executive Leadership Team. She walks for cousin Susan, and many others in her family, including her father, who died from rheumatic heart disease when Seachrist was just 4 years old. She also walks for her brother, a heart attack survivor.

“Heart disease can go undetected. People may have high cholesterol without even knowing it, and high blood pressure is known as the silent killer,” Seachrist explained. “There are so many reasons to participate in activities that generate awareness about heart disease and its many causes – whether heart issues run in your family, or not. You may be saving a life.”

As the county’s public university, Kent State University at Stark provides a quality university education that works to positively impact the region in a number of ways. Promoting physical activity, health and wellness goes hand-in-hand with moving the community forward.

The 2021 Stark Heart Walk will take place Saturday, Sept. 18, at the campus. Find out more about the Heart Walk and join a team.

Seachrist is happy to lead the campus’ team, which will continue to add to its membership throughout the summer.

“By participating in this walk, you may be helping a friend or a colleague, who has an issue now, or may have an issue in the future,” she said. “Others may want to get involved for their own health’s sake. We are all so connected in life, your actions could be saving the life of someone you know and care about.”

Family ties

The New Waterford community in rural Columbiana County rallied around the Seachrist family in 1962. Many boarded a Greyhound bus to make their way from the small farming community to the big city –Cleveland. There, they gave blood at the Cleveland Clinic, where Susan Seachrist underwent surgery. 

“This was significant for community members to travel for Susan,” the dean explained. “And even though Susan did not survive, it demonstrates the collective care we should all have for one another.”

Heart issues have always plagued the Seachrist side of the dean’s family. While her brother, Daniel, survived his heart attack and is now 73, her father, Glen, died when he was just 39.

Triggered by a susceptibility to rheumatic fever, the heart issues experienced by Seachrist’s father and paternal grandmother, along with her cousin Susan, all resulted from rheumatic heart disease.

“My dad helped my grandfather raise three younger children after his mother died of rheumatic heart disease at age 42,” Seachrist said. “My father was just 13 at the time of his mother’s death. He was athletic, he played ball and worked very hard. When he became sick with rheumatic fever, he didn’t even realize it – and that affected his heart.”

Another cousin, who survived two tours in Vietnam, later died of a heart attack at 48.

Trials and triumphs

And Seachrist has had her own trials. Despite her mother’s best efforts to keep a young Denise free of strep-throat infections that can lead to rheumatic fever and heart damage, Seachrist became ill when she was a teen.

While the disease was treated before it caused permanent damage, it meant being sidelined during much of her high school years. While Seachrist’s heart healed, she was prevented from taking part in physical activities, like basketball, although she still snuck in a few hoops when she could. But this musical talent, who would go on to major in voice performance and minor in piano at Kent State University, performed in the marching band.

In her 50s, Seachrist developed a passion for running, completing one especially memorable marathon with her late husband, Charlie Wentz, in Dublin, Ireland. It’s a pastime Seachrist still enjoys today.

“How fortunate I was,” stated Seachrist, reflecting on her family’s lot.

She was only 2 when Susan died and was sometimes called “Susan” growing up in honor – and memory – of her cousin. She didn’t mind.

“People knew the story,” Seachrist said. “And Susan was very musical, too. She used to sing duets with her father. When I think about Susan, I think about all of these opportunities, all of this life she was not able to experience. She had a bright future ahead of her.”

So, Seachrist walks in September for her family, for Susan and the others, but also for those she’s never met.

“You do not know when you, or someone you love, may need the American Heart Association,” Seachrist said. “So, it’s important to get involved and provide another chance at life.”

Above photo:

Left: Susan Seachrist was just 20 when she died during her third open heart surgery in 1962.

Center: Susan Seachrist (center) and her siblings, Wayne and Leslie (left), were double cousins to Dean Denise A. Seachrist and her brother, Daniel (right). The children were considered double cousins because the Rapp sisters of Columbiana County married Seachrist brothers.

Right: Community members from New Waterford, Ohio, in Columbiana County traveled by bus to the Cleveland Clinic to donate blood for Susan’s final surgery.   

POSTED: Friday, March 19, 2021 - 2:59pm
UPDATED: Friday, March 19, 2021 - 3:08pm
Melissa Griffy Seeton