Heart disease and stroke impact us all. It does not discriminate by age, gender, race...it does not discriminate at all.

I was diagnosed with a heart condition when I was just two years old. Growing-up, all I ever wanted was to be able to run and play like everyone else. Instead, I was bullied for my heart condition. As I was growing up, I lost four family members to completely preventable heart disease and strokes. The impact of this, while fighting for my own heart health, changed me in a profound way.

In 2008, I underwent full open heart surgery. My aortic valve and full ascending aorta had to be replaced due to advanced heart failure, aortic valve failure, and a massive aortic aneurysm that were caused by my cardiac birth defect. I had nearly lost my life due to heart disease. After surgery, I was stronger and healthier than ever.

Almost three years ago on Christmas Eve, the room started spinning and I fell to the floor. I was having a stroke. Just a few weeks later, my father collapsed in front of me. His heart had stopped after the common flu attacked his heart. I gave him CPR and after almost three weeks in hospitals, he was strong enough to come home to begin his recovery. Just a couple of days after he was released in the hospital, I got a call that changed my life. Cesily, my best friend, had passed away unexpectedly from an aortic dissection. Heart disease and stroke... they are things that happen to someone else. That is, until it happens to you and those that you love. Then it becomes terrifyingly real.

On Saturday, October 15, I will be walking at the Puget Sound Heart and Stroke Walk in Seattle again. I will be walking along with my father, a fellow survivor, and our family. I will walk with Cesily’s family. We walk so that others don’t have to experience the loss that we have.

I invite you to join us and walk in honor of someone you know by signing up at PugetSoundHeartWalk.org. The family-friendly 5K walk/run also features a one-mile survivor route, and is sponsored nationally by Subway and locally by Virginia Mason and EvergreenHealth. Proceeds benefit the local American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

I’m participating to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, for my loved ones and me. Together with the American Heart Association, we can make healthier, longer lives possible for everyone.

Brandi Aubrey is a volunteer for the American Heart Association and inspires others to take action against heart disease and stroke by sharing her story.