PORTLAND – Bob Hatem of Scarborough was only 38 years old when he suffered his first heart attack.

Now, as he approaches his 50th birthday, Hatem says he has a lot to be grateful for — a caring doctor, an implanted defribillator that helps his heart function properly, major dietary changes and a wife who also lost weight to support his efforts to slim down.

They’ve all been contributing factors to his improved well-being and a more healthy outlook on life.

“With my wife’s support, I try to eat well and exercise,” said Hatem, who weighs 210 pounds now — 82 less than when he had the heart attack. He tries to stick to a diet of lean protein and lots of vegetables, avoiding the carbohydrates in foods such as pasta, pizza dough and bread as much as possible.

“It’s amazing. He really had to reach to accomplish this,” said Hatem’s wife, Gail. “He has inspired a lot of people” where he works, at Hannaford supermarkets.

The Hatems were among the estimated 1,500 people who gathered in a light rain Sunday morning at Portland’s Payson Park to participate in the 2011 Southern Maine Heart Walk.

Depending on their physical conditioning, participants could walk one or four miles around Back Cove to raise funds to benefit the American Heart Association.

More than $223,000 was raised, with the total likely to climb this week after all the contributions have been tallied, said heart association spokeswoman Brenda Quinn.

She said most of those funds will go toward research grants in Maine, where about 4,000 people died last year from heart disease. The donations are used by such institutions as Maine Medical Center in Portland, the University of New England in Biddeford and Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor.

Sunday’s event drew a diverse mix of people from across Maine whose lives have been touched in different ways by heart disease.

Quinn said the Hatems were the top fundraisers, gathering about $8,000 in pledges.

Close behind the Hatems were K.C. Hughes, 55, of Cumberland and his wife, Katherine. They were able to raise about $5,400.

Hughes, another heart attack survivor, recalled his brush with death in October 2007.

He had just returned from a run and could not stop sweating. He was at home with his two young children — his wife was away on a business trip — when he decided to take a shower.

Hughes collapsed, falling through a glass shower door onto the floor of his bathroom.

His daughter, Kaitlin, who was 8 years old at the time, knew she should call 911 as well as her grandmother, who lives next door. Her actions probably saved Hughes’ life.

“I feel great now, but I have to work at staying in shape,” said Hughes. “I’ve been working out every day.”

Ryan Jennings said he has a lot of people to thank for his improved health, especially his heart donor.

The 64-year-old Bowdoinham resident underwent a successful heart transplant in Boston in October 2008, after a routine exam detected an enlarged heart.

“He couldn’t even walk to the end of his driveway (before his surgery),” said Jennings’ son, Matt. Now Jennings tries to walk at least two miles a day.

“He has more life now than he ever had during the last 10 years,” Matt said.

“It’s a total blessing, but it’s still hard to believe,” added Jennings, who someday would like to meet his donor’s family. Father and son raised more than $1,000 to benefit Sunday’s Heart Walk.

Megan Allen, a young mother from Winslow, was at the walk with her daughter Ava, who was born with a congenital heart defect. Allen recounted how she stood by as her 2-year-old underwent four open-heart surgeries and recovered from a stroke.

Ava, who was wrapped in a blanket, was ready to be pushed around Back Cove in her stroller. The toddler seems to be doing well, her mother said.

“Hopefully, the surgeries will give her a normal life span,” Allen said. “My advice to others is in this type of situation, take it one day at a time, and reach out. There is plenty of support out there.”

Jenny Hagan’s son, Joey, inspired 38 people to join his Heart Walk team called “Just for Joey.” They were able to raise more than $3,500 for the heart association.

Joey Hagan, who is 19 now, underwent open-heart surgery six years ago to replace a missing heart valve. Last June, he had “life-threatening surgery” to repair a valve.

Joey Hagan currently attends the University of Southern Maine. His mother credits the heart association with supporting her son through some trying times.

“He is doing wonderful,” said Jenny Hagan, who lives in Portland. “That’s why I came here today, to share his story.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]