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Fairfax attorney raising funds for heart disease awareness


Fairfax attorney John Harrity was “in the best shape” of his life when he played in his regular Monday night basketball game on May 2, 2016.

He left the game in an ambulance, clinging to life.

Harrity, managing partner of Harrity & Harrity, suffered a “widow maker” heart attack during the game. A “widow maker” results from a blockage of the left anterior descending artery; it is among the deadliest kinds of heart attack. The next memory Harrity has after falling unconscious is waking up from a coma three weeks later.

“The odds of me making it through those first few days were, according to my cardiologist, a million to one,” Harrity said. “More than half a dozen times, my wife was told that I was not going to make it.”

During Harrity’s eight-week stay in the intensive care unit, he and his twin brother Paul began brainstorming how to “be better” after this experience.

“If I just came back to work as if nothing happened, I would have wasted this entire experience,” Harrity said.

Born out of that conversation was Harrity 4 Charity, a giving-back initiative aligned with the law firm. Through Harrity 4 Charity, or H4C, the firm pledges 5% of its profits to partner charities, including the American Heart Association. Recently, H4C reached the $1 million landmark in total donations.

Earlier this month, H4C began a fundraising push in conjunction with Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, which ran from Feb. 7-14. The firm announced a charitable matching campaign of up to $65,000 for donations associated with the Lawyers Have Heart 10K, 5K and Fun Walk. Harrity has co-chaired the run since 2020.

Held by the American Heart Association, Lawyers Have Heart is a “lawyer-focused” charity race held in Washington, D.C. Now in its 31st year, the race has become one of the largest races in the Washington area. Harrity, who has been involved with the race since 2018, said last year’s virtual event had “a little north” of 6,000 participants.

“We have lawyers from Japan and India and Australia and Germany and several other places that participated in our race last year,” Harrity said. Harrity said while he is hoping the 2021 event will be in-person; he believes the event also can be virtual again.

While Harrity was not affected by congenital heart disease specifically, he said the focus on congenital heart defect awareness was inspired by the American Heart Association’s story on Rosie Veltz. Veltz was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning that only the right side of her heart was functioning. After being put into hospice at age 2, Veltz recovered after open heart surgery and is now “thriving” at 13.

“Our focus was on Rosie and her family, and trying to raise money around this type of heart disease that affected her,” Harrity said. “It’s a really, really powerful story. Another miracle.”

During Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, H4C raised approximately $78,000, exceeding the charitable match. The funds raised represent registration fees and donations to Lawyers Have Heart. Harrity said that his firm has been the largest corporate sponsor among lawyers for the last three years of Lawyers Have Heart.

In the short term, H4C will have another matching campaign in early April leading into the Lawyers Have Heart race in June. As for the future, Harrity has goals beyond the first step of establishing H4C.

“Step two is getting the whole legal industry to give more,” Harrity said. “The next big thing is bigger than just our firm giving, it’s more industry wide is what I’m shooting for.”

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