The Camino de Santiago becomes ‘a walk for the Heart’

by Heather Moore

Walking the Camino de Santiago is a religious pilgrimage in Spain which attracts thousands of people to pray at the sarcophagus Saint James the Apostle.

For me, it has also been a walk of gratitude for the Heart Institute, which has given our family so much. We are all eternally grateful.

Walking has changed my life, and last year, I walked in support of the Heart Institute.

Many years ago, my doctor pointed out that my body was starting to show signs of neglect, and I was determined to do something about it. Following a presentation of a mother and daughter’s journey on the Camino Frances, I knew this was for me. I have since done four walks in my life.

The first one started at St. Jean Pied de Port in France and ended at Santiago in Spain. In the spring of 2004, I arrived in Santiago in 34 days, embracing the long days, fellow pilgrims, and community. I enjoyed it so much that five years later, I walked the Camino Frances in 2009 with two very dear friends and again in 2013 alone.

While I have never been a patient at the Heart Institute, my husband Brian has needed their help several times. In 2011, Brian suffered his first heart attack in England, just before Christmas and again in December, 2012 here in Ottawa at the gym with his trainer. In February of 2015, while he was on the treadmill, he had another heart attack, spending another few days in the care of the wonderful doctors and nurses at the Heart Institute.

Fortunately, he recovered well, continuing his walking and strength training to the point where he and I felt he could walk the first day of the Via de La Plata, my most recent walk, with me. I also thought this would be the time to give back to the Heart Institute in some way.

So for every kilometer I walked, I decided would give one dollar to the Heart Institute. From Seville to Santiago, it’s 1,000 kilometers, the longest pilgrim route in Spain. We donated $1,000 to thank all the caregivers at the Heart Institute who “keep my Brian going” and who have inspired me to “walk for the heart.”

This is the story of this amazing journey:

The Via de la Plata is the road less traveled. I knew I would be alone much of the path. Even though I would be alone in my thoughts, I was really not alone as I was walking for the heart.

I began the walk with Brian on August 25 in Seville at 7 a.m. Brian was walking the first day to share a bit of what the walk is about. He walked 28 km with me in the sweltering heat, both of us taking in these very special moments together. Once he left, I had 970 km to my destination, Santiago de Compostela. Once he was home, we texted or talked every day while I walked.

Brian, my husband.

Brian, my husband.

One of the many pilgrims who left an indelible memory on me was Marc, 47 years old and a true nomad living out of his camper in Portugal.

I told him about Brian and why I was walking the Via de la Plata, and then he showed me the very large scar on his chest. Marc then shared his medical story. One day, he was walking in France on a trail and was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. Realizing what was happening, he called for a cab to take him to the nearest hospital. Once there, the doctor confirmed it was indeed a heart attack and that he needed surgery immediately. He didn’t have any health insurance so the doctor told him there was cardiac surgeon in Paris who owed him a favour. So Marc was taken by helicopter to Paris and received lifesaving surgery. Within a short period of time, Marc was hiking again. Two months later he was walking the Via de La Plata. We walked together over very difficult terrain which included a challenging mountain. My steps became more committed no matter how difficult it was.



There were many days that were very challenging, and as I walked further north the weather cooled considerably and then it rained. The wind was so strong that I was almost pushed onto the road. While I became increasingly tired, I remembered my granddaughter Isla’s email the night before, “Strong legs, Grandma, strong legs.” She’s five years old. I kept going and was fine as my legs were “strong.” I was walking with lots of love in my heart.

El Camino blog photo (5)

Finally, I arrived in Santiago on October 4th, happily anticipating Brian’s arrival the next day. I felt strong and fulfilled. Both my husband and I are so fortunate to have walked together that first day, which is in a great part do to the wonderful care he was given at the Heart Institute.
We cannot say enough of the stellar care he received at the Heart Institute. Thank you!

Brian and me!

Brian and me!

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