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Heartfelt gesture in Heart Walk

Several members of Piedmont Henry Hospital’s Team Gayle arrived early for the Atlanta Heart Walk.

Several members of Piedmont Henry Hospital’s Team Gayle arrived early for the Atlanta Heart Walk.

ATLANTA — A few dozen inspired Henry County residents stood amid 15,000 people Saturday in midtown Atlanta.

Employees from Piedmont Henry Hospital were joined by friends and students in the annual Atlanta Heart Walk charity event. Together, they formed a walk team in memory of one of the hospital’s most beloved employees.

Gayle Blake, 60, of Hampton died unexpectedly on June 19 after suffering a heart attack. Blake’s untimely death spurred her co-workers to pay tribute to her and prompted others who knew her to demonstrate their support.

Sandra Martin is the Health Occupations Students of America instructor at Locust Grove High School. She and several of her students took part in the American Heart Association’s 5K charity walk held in midtown.

Katie Barnard, 16, is a junior in the future health professionals organization.

“She meant a lot to us,” said Barnard. “Ms. Gayle was always professional. She was always involved.”

Blake was the continuing medical education coordinator at Piedmont Henry. She also served as training assistant in the hospital’s education department. Most of her friends agreed, however, she favored her duties as school liaison for the Health Occupations Students of America programs in Henry County.

Caylin McCubbin, 16, is a junior at Locust Grove High and president of the student-led health occupations group.

“It’s a wonderful health care organization that allows us to learn about the health care realm and how it works,” said McCubbin. “It also gives back to the community.”

McCubbin said the group donated $200 from its regular fundraising efforts to the American Heart Association on behalf of Blake.

The group contributed to the estimated $2,000 raised in the past month by Piedmont Henry employees in Blake’s name. The American Heart Association reported that it raised a total of $1.3 million in Saturday’s charity event raising awareness and funds for heart research.

Blake served as a local inspiration in the cause which affects so many, said Tierra Alphonse, a junior at Locust Grove High and Health Occupations Students of America member.

“She was caring and she loved students,” said Alphonse, 17, adding her aunt also died this summer from a heart attack. “I feel that heart disease is something all of us should be aware of and try to fight.”

Carmen Hough repeated the sentiment. She worked alongside Blake as staff educator at Piedmont Henry, and was captain of Team Gayle for the Atlanta Heart Walk.

Blake worked 14 years at the hospital and held several leadership positions throughout the Southern Crescent.

“She was more than just an employee,” said Hough.

Blake was a member of the Henry Arts Alliance Board of Directors and an administrator for the Arts Council’s Annual Camp. She was an active member of GraceWay Church in Hampton and volunteer with Longleaf Hospice. She also headed up the Explorer’s Program at Piedmont Henry.

Kathy Marshman joined Saturday’s charity walk. She was Blake’s friend and former co-worker at Piedmont Henry.

“She was a loving, caring and giving person that I miss deeply every day,” said Marshman.

Her friend’s death is the latest of encounters she has had with heart disease. Both her father and her husband have been bothered by it. Marshman said her father had triple bypass surgery 15 years ago, after suffering a minor heart attack.

“Having that surgery really has kept him here,” Marshman said. “He’s 85 years old now.”

Brenda Jett was accompanied by her 5-year-old grandson, Isaac. She and Blake were friends for many years, trading recipes and spending time together.

“I inherited all her clothes. She wore a lot of black,” joked Jett. “I’m doing the heart walk for Gayle because she touched so many hearts. She touched my heart.”

Blake’s younger sister, Susan Vann, began her walk with a smile. The busy road of pedestrians ahead of her echoed their cheerful conversations as the sun rose above the city’s tall buildings and warmed the streets beneath their feet.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Vann. “I know that she would be absolutely tickled to see the outpouring.”