The campaign was low-key, but the call for volunteers tugged at Cecelia Ostrowski's heart strings.
When the Anne Arundel County branch of the American Heart Association sent a letter recruiting volunteers three years ago, the bank executive didn't hesitate to sign up. She knew firsthand the pain and anguish caused by cardiovascular disease.
Both her parents died of heart attacks. Her mother, Cecelia Toloczko, was only 62 when she suffered several crippling strokes and then died of a heart seizure. Her father, Stanley Toloczko, lived to celebrate his 70th birthday before dying of the same ailment.
"We need more education to break that kind of pattern," Ostrowski said.
The 45-year-old vice president of The Bank of Baltimore's Harundale branch is backing her belief with more than just words. She's spearheading a campaign to start a North County chapter of the American Heart Association.
"We want to have more programs in the schools and in companies," said Ostrowski, who has worked as a volunteer raising money for the association since 1987. "We have to reach more people to fight this disease."
Heart disease still ranks as the most fatal disorder in the United States, killing more people than cancer, strokes, accidents and AIDS combined, said Shirley Lieberman, division director for the association's Anne Arundel County branch.
One out of two Americans will suffer from cardiovascular disease during their lifetime, she said.
Last year, 16,000 residents of Maryland died of heart ailments, including 1,110 in Anne Arundel County. The staggering statistics are mirrored nationwide, Lieberman said.
"We're close to licking the disease, but we still have a way to go," she said.
Lieberman hopes a North County chapter will boost fund-raising efforts to increase community awareness of the often fatal disease. She wants to sponsor more blood-pressure screenings and similar events in North County shopping centers and business complexes. She also hopes to persuade local restaurants to remove salt shakers one day in May to mark a "salt-out," sort of patterned after the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.
"One of the reasons heart disease is so deadly is that there are no symptoms with high blood pressure," she said. "That's why education is so important."
Ostrowski enlisted the support of North County civic leaders and politicians, including Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-31st district. Huff has promised to serve as recruitment chairman for a new north county branch.
An organizational meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Harundale Library.
"Through my work, I see a lot of people who are severely hurt by heart disease," said Huff, who owns a Pasadena insurance firm.
He also remembers being stunned when an elderly man who attended a General Assembly session last year suddenly suffered a heart attack.
"We need to raise more money for research and educational programs," he said. "That's really the only way to fight this disease."