In memory of Andy Peña: High schooler raises awareness for mysterious disease

Alexandra Ford with Andy Peña a few months before his death in 2011.

When Andy Peña passed away suddenly after running on a treadmill, his family, friends and the whole community were shocked.

The diagnosis — almost two years later — was myocarditis, a rare condition with an array of causes and symptoms, that results in inflammation and damage to muscles in the heart.

In remembrance of her lost friend, Alexandra Ford, a junior at Darien High School, is raising money for the Myocarditis Foundation before running the annual “Celebrate Life” half marathon on March 10 near Rock Hill, N. Y.

“The theme of the half marathon inspired me to raise money for The Myocarditis Foundation, which works to raise awareness and increase understanding of the disease,” she wrote in a letter to her friends and family.

Though there is a name for the disorder that can be deadly, there are no medical explanations for why some people get it either from a virus, an autoimmune disease, medication or environmental toxins; and why some cases are fatal and undetected, according to the Myocarditis Foundation.

Medical studies do not agree on the number of cases of myocarditis, and the rate of fatalities for young adults range between 5 and 22% a year, according to the foundation.

“Because myocarditis is rare, information is limited regarding its causes and effective treatments,” its website states. “Myocarditis is not believed to be inherited. No genes are known to predispose people to myocarditis.”

Ford is a runner, and will be captain of the cross country team at the high school next year. Andy Peña was also an athlete and was on the track team at the time of his death, his mother, Giovanna Peña, said.

Andy was diagnosed with asthma previously and at the time the family didn’t know what happened, his mother said.

“When this happened,” Peña said, “we had no idea.

“From one moment to the next, he died of cardiac arrest, which has several causes, but in his case by myocarditis.”

The half marathon is 10 days before the second anniversary of Andy’s death, Ford said, and the theme of celebrating life was relevant.

Because it took so long to figure out why Andy died, people are no longer asking about his cause of death, she said.

About a month before the race, Ford has raised $650 out of her $3000 goal. The adults in her life, including Giovanna Peña, Andy’s mother, say they are proud of her, Ford said, but she won’t feel proud of herself until she reaches her goal and finishes the marathon.

“I hope that the community supports Alex in her efforts,” Peña said. Although Alex and Andy were classmates for less than a year, Alex considered Andy a “true friend,” she said.

“Alex is an impressive and compassionate young woman,” Peña said, “my husband Victor and I are grateful to her for doing this in memory of our beloved Andy.”

More info: To support Alex Ford and the Myocarditis Foundation — [email protected], or 203-644-8440.

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