Saratoga County

Teen serves as face of disease at Heart Walk in Saratoga

Matt Westervelt is finally starting to lead the normal life of a 14-year-old after having four major

Matt Westervelt is finally starting to lead the normal life of a 14-year-old after having four major operations and more than a dozen catheterizations because of congenital heart disease.

“I’m feeling better,” Westervelt said.

He likes basketball and skateboarding when not attending eighth-grade classes at Waterford-Halfmoon Junior/Senior High School.

His favorite basketball team is the Boston Celtics after having spent considerable time at Boston Children’s Hospital over the years.

Westervelt is the junior ambassador for The North Country Heart Walk that will be held starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Westervelt will give a brief speech at the event and walk as well.

The walk — there is a one-mile and three-mile version — is a fundraising event coordinated by the American Heart Association, the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.

Westervelt said his most recent operation was in March, when he had a heart valve replaced at Boston Children’s Hospital. That was his fourth operation since he was an infant. He has also had 13 catheterizations over the years.

Joe Cramer, the teen’s father, said his son is finally able to lead a more normal life. He can’t participate in contact sports because he will be on blood-thinning medicine the rest of his life.

“They say we should be pretty much set right now,” Cramer said.

He said Boston Children’s Hospital, where Matt was born and where he had all his operations, is rated No. 1 nationally in pediatric cardiology.

Cramer said the American Heart Association has been very supportive of his son and his family. The association has a “Cardiac Kids” website that allows children who have had congenital heart problems and surgery to share their feelings with each other. The website also has a parents’ support section, where parents can share their feelings and observations about having a child with congenital heart ailments.

Jim Connolly, president and CEO of Ellis Medicine in Schenectady, is chairman of this year’s North Country Heart Walk.

Connolly said his brother died 13 years ago of cardiovascular disease. He said he attended his brother’s daughter’s wedding recently and thought how good it would have been if his brother could have witnessed her walking down the aisle.

“If we keep raising money to fight heart disease, think of all the fathers who will be around to walk their daughters down the aisle,” Connolly said in a prepared statement.

Connolly and his staff at Ellis Medicine are leading by example, setting a large goal for the Ellis walking team.

A number of Capital Region businesses are sponsoring the walk. For more information or to register for the walk visit or email [email protected] or call 869-4042.

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