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Life was good for Sean Maloney. In 2010, his wife had just given birth to their sixth child. At age 54, he was the executive vice president of Intel and had just led his company through the worldwide recession. Intel was poised for success, and Maloney was next in line for CEO — until a massive stroke stopped him in his tracks. Despite his high-stress job, Maloney seemed very healthy before his stroke. He ate a nutritious diet, rowed every morning before work, followed his doctor’s advice and received annual physicals and health screenings. But he never had the one test that could have prevented his stroke: an ultrasound of his semi-blocked carotid artery. Five years later, after a grueling but extraordinary recovery, Maloney founded Heart Across America, a cross-country bicycle ride with events in 14 cities. His goal is to raise money for arterial ultrasounds and awareness for the early detection and prevention of strokes.
The Road to Recovery
Nearly 800,000 Americans died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2011, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That’s about one in every three deaths. It’s an astounding number considering that around 80 percent are preventable. Stroke is also the leading cause of disability, ending successful careers like Maloney’s. “I was a sales and marketing guy,” he says. “Communications was my bread and butter, but for the first few weeks after my stroke, I could only speak two words: ‘yeah and no.’ I had to relearn to speak, which is incredibly hard, and I’m still only about 60 or 70 percent there.”
Throughout his long, slow recovery, Maloney remained optimistic. “I always believe that tomorrow will be better than today, and next week will be better than last week, and next year will be better than this year. You have to believe this. Otherwise, you will never recover.” Beyond his positive attitude and supportive family, Maloney had another reason to recover. He wanted to lead the fight against the preventable disease that almost killed him.
Big Heart, Big Goal
Maloney has since retired from Intel, but he’s already back in the boardroom as chairman for the Silicon Valley American Heart Association. For now, however, he’s leading the charge against heart disease and stroke while on the road with Heart Across America. While Maloney has always been athletic, he’s new to cycling. “I’ve been rowing for 40 years,” he explains. “But when I was thinking about what I could do to raise money for the AHA, I realized you can’t row across America, but you can bike.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing, cycling from Palo Alto to New York and inviting people to join him for the ride, pledge miles and spread the word through social media. Along the way, he’s talking to people about how to prevent strokes and heart disease. “I tell everyone I know or meet, don’t have a stroke. Never. Watch your weight. Don’t get high blood pressure. If you have high cholesterol, take medication to control it. Those three alone would prevent a lot of deaths. Just as importantly, if you’re over 50, get annual health screenings, including an carotid artery ultrasound.”
A Bumpy Ride
Before he began his journey in March, Maloney filmed a video for the Heart Across America website, in which he states, “Coming back from my stroke was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I fully expect this ride to be the second hardest.”
Maloney’s prediction turned out to be true because of an accident on Easter Sunday. He was 700 miles into the 5,000-mile ride when he lost control of his bike going downhill. He broke his hip and several ribs, and also hurt his shoulder. But if a stroke couldn’t stop him, a few broken bones certainly won’t.
“I’m going to ride again,” Maloney says. “But the doctors say I have to wait 2 1/2 months.” In the interim, he’s still attending the scheduled events. “Thanks to Samsung, we are offering free demonstrations of carotid artery ultrasounds at events. We have scanned a lot of people and have found a few concerning arteries. These people will be able to seek additional treatment, a chance I didn’t have. That makes me feel fantastic!” While Maloney already knew all the stats around cardiovascular diseases, he says this experience has driven home the critical nature of his cause. “Every person I’ve come into contact with has heart disease or stroke within the family. Everyone, everywhere.”
Want to help Maloney and the AHA reduce heart attacks and stroke by 20 percent before 2020? Visit HeartAcrossAmerica.org to learn how you can be part of the movement.