When he was just 21 years old, Duncan Williams, received a call that changed his life forever.

“I had breakfast with my dad that morning before he went to work,” he says. “Then, at about 9:30, I got a call from the office telling me he was in cardiac arrest.”

He beat the emergency responders to the office and watched as they tried to revive his father. At the hospital, when the doctors could do no more, the college junior was given the bad news: his father, Duncan Williams, Sr., had passed away from a heart attack at age 56.

“My mother and sister were traveling back from Atlanta at the time, and I had no way to reach them,” he says. “It was several hours after he passed away that they arrived, and I had to tell them what happened.”

Growing up, 50-year-old Duncan remained aware of his family’s history of heart disease and strived to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. However, while 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable, his was not.

“Several years ago, I was having a stress test done for an insurance policy,” he says. “My cardiologist noticed a blip when my heart rate got above 160 and felt a catheterization was needed to investigate further.”

His physician, Joseph Samaha, found blockages in Duncan’s arteries that required stents.

“He told me that in my case, genetics was the culprit,” Duncan says. “He told me that if I hadn’t come in and had the stress test, I would have dropped dead from a heart attack while on the treadmill.”

“It made me realize that I knew about the impact heart disease had on my family, and I would have to be aware of it for the rest of my life.”

As the president of Duncan-Williams, Inc., he has made it a priority to provide heart-healthy opportunities for his employees, including healthy vending options and yearly biometric screenings, as well as company-sponsored fitness events.

“We also sponsor our employees in local 5Ks and runs,” he says. “We want to provide as many ways to support them in eating healthy and being active.”

One such 5K is the American Heart Association’s Mid-South Heart Walk and Red Dress Dash 5K, which Duncan is chairing.

“The Heart Walk is important because it is free and open to all members of the community,” he says. “It gives us a chance to stress the importance of heart-healthy living to everyone—not just business leaders or executives.”

Since his heart procedure, Duncan has made a concerted effort to be active at least six days a week for at least 50 minutes. He encourages his three children to be active, as well.

“It’s important for me as a parent to make sure my children understand they need to start looking after themselves now,” he says. “Heart disease runs in our family, but being active and healthy can help tremendously with their health later in life.”

Lori Pope was the former Communications Director for the American Heart Association Southeast Affiliate

The Mid-South Heart Walk & Red Dress Dash 5K will be held Saturday, April 28, 9 am at Autozone Park. To Register or donate, go to MidsouthHeartWalk.org