jane canale

When Jane Canale’s brother died of a heart attack two years ago, she went into a tailspin.

Bruce Hamilton was just 55-years-old. His death was sudden and Canale’s grief was raw.

“I spent a long time wallowing in it,” said Canale of Schenectady, New York. “I had a lot of anger and I developed an unhealthy lifestyle – eating too much and not exercising enough.”

Then one day, she remembered something about a heart-health improvement course she had heard about the previous year. It actually was the last day to apply to BetterU, but Canale got in her application in time and was accepted to the program.

Canale was one of 11 women chosen last year for the 12-week heart-health improvement course. The group met regularly for nutrition and exercise sessions and supported one another online.

While BetterU was a healthy physical improvement for Canale, she found it also helped her emotionally.

“The program really helped me work through my anger and grief,” she said. “The camaraderie, relationship building and the information sharing among the women was great. I got so much healthier, and the BetterU program reminds you that you are worth it. The American Heart Association staff and volunteers were great champions of the group. They believed in me before I believed in myself. By the end of the 12 weeks, I could say, ‘I’m OK now.’”

Once the course was over, Canale decided to continue channeling her grief in healthier ways. She helped form a Heart Walk team in her brother’s honor, “Bruce’s Champions.”

Her BetterU colleagues also stepped in to contribute.

Colleague Kate Sullivan, a DJ at Froggy 100.3 in Queensbury, New York – close to the county where Canale’s brother worked as a Washington County Sheriff’s Department investigator — hosted and promoted a bake sale to raise money.

“Fundraising in honor of someone you have lost from a heart attack or heart disease can help heal your broken heart in their absence,” Sullivan said. “Bruce was a noted public figure and many people in the community felt his absence.  This event allowed Jane to raise money to fight heart disease as well as honor her brother and the hearts he filled in his time here with us.”

“We raised $1, 000,” Canale said. “People donated baked goods, and the staff from the sheriff’s office took shifts coming over to see us. One deputy emptied everything he had out of his pocket. People Bruce had helped came to the bake sale and Facebook blew up with the stories of things he’d done for them.”

Hamilton, who left behind a wife and three children, adored babies. So when Canale saw an American Heart Association campaign called “Little Hats Big Hearts” that provided red hats to newborns, she moved into action.

“Bruce was a big man, a cop, very tough,” Canale said. “But when you brought a baby around, he turned into a marshmallow. The toughest cases he had involved children.”

Canale reached out to family and friends to provide area nurseries and pediatric intensive care units with little red hats for newborns during American Heart Month, February.

“Little Hats Big Hearts caught my eye,” Canale said. “I know how to knit and crochet, and local friends, family, acquaintances, as well as cousins and aunts in Florida made hats.”

In all, Canale’s group created 40 tiny hats to honor Hamilton’s memory.

“It is with pride and great memories that we donate these baby hats in memory of Bruce Hamilton,” read the note that accompanied the donation.

Another dozen are already made for next year.

“They’re small things I can do. Bruce would appreciate it. It helped me take this tragedy and turn it into something positive,” said Canale of her volunteerism.