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'Mayor Manny' steals the show, and their hearts at annual Heart and Stroke Walk
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'Mayor Manny' steals the show, and their hearts at annual Heart and Stroke Walk

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SOMERS — It’s not often a kid with an oxygen tank takes everyone’s breath away.

Kenosha’s Manny Rios fired up the crowd with a spirited performance of Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” and offered inspiration to more than 600 who participated in the annual Racine/Kenosha Heart and Stroke Walk on Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Rios, 13, was born with a severe congenital heart defect and given less than one week to live at birth. The Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader overcame a stroke, three open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant to earn the nickname “Mayor Manny” for his perseverance, popularity and friendly demeanor.

Rios took the stage with his oxygen tank — which he carries around in a Star Wars suitcase — and proved that even those born with half of a heart can still be full of life.

“Manny is the reason we do these events,” said Megan Wurz, a senior director for the American Heart Association. “It’s for the survivors and to raise awareness in the community.”

The free event included a variety of giveaways, activities, health tips and a one-mile walk through campus. This year’s event also featured a Kids Zone, featuring kid-friendly booths, games and prizes.

“We really wanted to reach out to the younger generation,” said Beth Grosman, a corporate walk director for American Heart Association. “It’s really to bring awareness about life choices that have an impact on heart health and stroke. Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable through life choices.”

Froedtert South was one of several local companies to raise funds through the event. Dozens of Froedtert South employees participated in the walk alongside more than 100 of their patients, including Mayor John Antaramian.

Antaramian suffered a heart attack on May 26 at his Kenosha residence and needed a heart catheterization procedure to clear three areas of blockage. The 64-year-old walks 4-5 miles per day, does three days of cardio rehabilitation per week and has a new heart-healthy diet.

“I’m excited to be here,” Antaramian said before the walk. “For me, it’s my first time taking part in something like this after my heart attack.”

But this day belonged to another mayor.

Rios met with American Heart Association staff members before the walk, busted a move on stage and led hundreds of supporters on a beautiful stroll through Parkside’s Inner Loop Road.

Rios appeared to be fully recovered from the heart transplant he received on June 17, 2017.

“He had a few bumps in the road while he was in the hospital,” said his mother Anna Rios. “He ended up slowly working his way back. Since receiving his new heart two years ago, Manny has so much energy. Manny has become so much more active. I speak for my entire family when I say I’m so proud of Manny for remaining the same. He’s the same charismatic, optimistic, fun-loving boy he’s always been, dancing his way through each and every hardship he’s faced over the years.”

The event benefited from pleasant weather Saturday morning, which included an appearance by a local stranger: The sun.

“The turnout was amazing,” Grosman said. “Everybody came out to support our mission and the heart walk while enjoying a beautiful day.”

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