McCrabb: Eight years after heart transplant, Middletown man finishes 3.1-mile Hunger Walk

75-year-old Dale Brown: ‘I was trying to beat myself and I did it. I impressed myself.’

After receiving a heart transplant, Dale Brown couldn’t walk from the front door of his Middletown home to the bathroom and back without sitting down.

That was him then.

Not him now.

Call him The Walking Man.

On Monday morning, Brown, 75, completed the 5K, or 3.1-mile, Hunger Walk, a fundraiser for the 613 agencies that partner with the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati. The course started in downtown Cincinnati, crossed into Covington and returned near Great American Ball Park.

He finished in one hour, one minute, 45 seconds.

Nearly 2,500 walkers registered and while Brown doesn’t know where he placed, he said with a laugh: “There were a lot of people behind me, but a whole lot in front of me. I impressed myself.”

His time and place seem irrelevant, really. Just finishing the walk for a man who eight years ago didn’t know if he was going to die on the operating table is quite an accomplishment.

“I was trying to beat myself and I did it,” he said.

As a way to train for the Hunger Walk the last several months, Brown and his girlfriend, Ruth Blom, walked around the Mason Community Center and Sharon Woods.

Still, he was unsure how his body — and his heart — would react when put to a grueling 3.1-mile test. He walked with a cane in case he got light-headed and became unsteady on his feet.

The cane gave him “a little more confidence,” he said.

For about 200 yards on the course there was a 15-degree grade, which was like “walking into a fence,” he said.

When the participants crossed the finish line, they were greeted by Kurt Reiber, president and CEO of the Freestore Foodbank. He tried to give Brown a high-five like the other walkers, but instead Brown gave a first-pump because he’s still concerned about germs due to his transplant.

That’s when Reiber realized Brown was the heart transplant recipient he was informed about by his staff. He presented Brown with a Freestore Foodbank Medallion.

“Really thankful” is how Brown, a 1965 Middletown High School graduate, described the recognition.

Before his heart condition, Brown was an accomplished long distance runner. During a 30-year span, he estimates he competed in 250 to 300 races, mostly 10K and one 26.1-mile marathon.

“Never do that again,” he said about running a marathon.

He hopes to make the Hunger Walk an annual Memorial Day event. Next time, he said, he will correct some mistakes he made. He will eat before the race, start closer to the middle of the pack, and will not stand for long periods of time before the race.

There were a few times during the walk when Brown said he needed to find encouragement from within. Quitting wasn’t an option.

“’I got to get to the finish line,’” he told himself. “’I can do it. I can do it.’”

Brown, who worked at General Motors in Moraine for 30 years, suffered a heart attack on Sept. 20, 2002. He went to his family doctor because he had flu-like symptoms, but an emergency electrocardiogram revealed he had 100 percent blockage in his arteries. He had one stent that day and four more later.

Then on Oct. 28, 2013, he received a pacemaker, and on April 4, 2014, he received a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), a mechanical heart that pushes oxygen-rich blood through the heart.

The LVAD either was a life destination or a bridge to a heart transplant, he said. After the procedure, he was hospitalized for 46 days and was released carrying 136 pounds on his 6-foot frame.

He was placed on a heart transplant list on July 15, 2015. Before that, there were 300 medical tests that confirmed everything he had told the doctors: besides having a weak heart, he was in good health, was an avid tennis player and had quit smoking and drinking years ago.

He received his heart transplant on Oct. 31, 2015 at Ohio State University Medical Center from an unknown donor at the time. He was hospitalized for 16 days.

Now that Brown has completed the walk, his mind flashes back to his heart transplant and the sacrifice parents made to donate their son’s heart after he was killed while driving to work in Columbus.

Brown sent the couple a letter through an organ donor organization thanking them for giving him a new life.

Part of the letter said he would be “take care of this heart.”

He never heard back.

On Monday, Brown put his words into action one step at a time.

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