Charmagyne Akram, a senior administrative services assistant in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has lost many family members to heart disease. She has become a strong supporter of the American Heart Association and an advocate for raising awareness and funding support for research of cardiovascular disease.
She was recognized by the American Heart Association as the Top Walker at UTHSC and among the Top 5 Walkers at the recent Mid-South Heart Walk during their recognition and award ceremony on April 28. Her team, the Kings & Queens of Hearts raised $2,500 toward UTHSC’s goal.
This year, UTHSC raised a total of $9,562 through 343 donations. Team captains for UTHSC included: Charmagyne Akram, Veronica Jones, Ruby McNeal, Easter Jenkins, Suzanne Apperson, Stanley Tyler, and Jackie Cotton. UTHSC also won first place for the T-shirt design contest. The custom T-shirt was designed by David Meyer, graphic designer in the UTHSC Communications and Marketing Department.
Akram said the best fundraisers are those who have a connection to someone and are passionate about raising funding support.
Her mother, who died at 68, was diagnosed with a heart condition affecting the heart valves. The mother of eight was only diagnosed with the medical condition after she suffered her first minor attack.
Akram and her five sisters worked with Stern Cardiovascular to determine if any of them had the heart condition. They did not, but she was diagnosed with a different heart condition, mitral valve prolapse. The condition has a strong hereditary tendency, and may cause fatigue, palpitations, sharp chest pains, migraines, and pulmonary edema.
Her great niece, Cheyenne, was also born with a heart condition—a hole in her heart and received her first heart transplant at age 11. When her body rejected the heart, Cheyenne received a second heart transplant, but later died due to complications.
“My sister, Cheyenne’s grandmother, died of a heart attack the day after Cheyenne received her first heart,” Akram said. “My youngest brother died of a massive heart attack at his home. So as the story goes, I have a very strong connection to the American Heart Association.”
She kept her mother and all her other relatives who have died of heart attacks in her mind while she served as team captain for one of UTHSC’s Mid-South Heat Walk teams, a role she has held for many years.
“My mother told me one day that I was ‘Qualified to do anything with nothing,’ ” Akram said. “That has always stuck with me, because if she believed in me enough to think that I could make something worthwhile out of nothing, imagine the possibilities of what I could do with something. I hold that quote dear to my heart.”
Her something was a challenge to others to match her donation of $100, through which she was able to raise $1,500 in one month.
“People have to have a compassion for others to do this,” said Akram, who will retire from UTHSC this year. “It’s not simply about winning, but understanding that heart disease is real and affects family, friends, and strangers. We work at a health science university. It’s not just a job for me, but a responsibility to aid a worthy cause.”