Tom Burns Running to Raise Funds for Heart Health

February 26, 2014  |  by Michael Freedman


Tom Burns, associate vice president for communications, speaks with WGRZ's Pete Gallivan in his office in the Gacioch Family Alumni and Admissions Center.

For once, Tom Burns is the news.

Within the last week, Niagara University’s associate vice president of communications has been featured in The Buffalo News and the Metro Source, and on WGRZ Channel 2, WKBW Channel 7 and Time Warner Cable News.

Burns’ run of airtime comes nearly a year after he suffered a heart attack about two hours after completing Buffalo’s annual Shamrock Run.

Whereas most runners would be tempted to take a year off from this race, Burns decided around Christmastime to recommit to training for this race – and also committed himself to raising funds for the American Heart Association.

In the two months since, he has harnessed the power of social media, Facebook in particular, to accrue nearly $3,800 (as of Feb. 24) in support of the fight against heart disease, America’s No. 1 killer. Burns has posted at least 30 times on his Facebook page to acknowledge the receipt of personal donations, simultaneously building awareness of the cause.

To date, he’s received 125 separate gifts, averaging more than $30 apiece.

“I figured I would be able to raise some money and awareness,” Burns said. “And initially I figured $1,000 would be a good target. It’s really has been overwhelming to see the support from family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers.”

Media outlets have sprinted to Monteagle Ridge and the West Seneca gym where Burns trains to tell the story of a man more intent on raising money for the AHA than toppling the race that set him back last March 2.

That’s when Burns was admitted to Mercy Hospital, where doctors confirmed his heart attack. Three weeks of cardiac rehab followed. Six weeks in, he was already back on the treadmill with his doctor’s blessing, preparing to resume the running lifestyle he’d known for years.

“It was good to get back into running quickly. I probably didn’t get out as much as I would have liked last year, but ran a couple of races and felt good doing it. By targeting the Shamrock Run, and announcing it, I guess I really have committed to a regular training schedule this year.”

Burns considers himself in decent shape – he’s back to running three times a week and eats fairly healthy; but he knows a family history of heart disease played a role in last March’s near-tragedy.

“A family history of heart disease is a major risk factor, and one with which I will always have to live. I can’t control that. But I can control a number of the other factors, so I will do that and leave the rest to God. Even through this whole ordeal, I have always had my Catholic faith and felt that everything would turn out OK.”

As the March 1 date of the Shamrock Run looms, Burns says he plans to conquer the eight-kilometer event at a pace of 11 or 12 minutes per mile.

“I’m going to beat this race – it’s not going to beat me,” he said.

Burns may not win Saturday’s race, and may even finish behind a thousand people or more, but he trails only one person nationwide in raising money and awareness for heart health on the American Heart Association’s FUNraise website.

And to the 47-year-old heart attack survivor, that’s what’s important.

To make a donation, please visit the FUNraise website.