Like thousands of young Americans, Irvine resident Samir Jaka never thought that a heart attack could happen to him.

When the 30-year-old collapsed during an afternoon basketball game with friends in April 2010 at Lemongrass Park in Irvine, the pain squeezing his chest was nothing like he had ever felt before.

"I had blurred vision, trouble, my hands and feet were tingling and going numb," Jaka said. "I kinda figured something was going on that was not right."

He was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors told him that he had suffered a heart attack.

Jaka was lucky — he would recover — but it required a cardiac rehabilitation program, a myriad of prescriptions and a complete overhaul of his diet and exercise habits.

"It was definitely a wake-up call," Jaka said. "Being 30 years old, I thought, 'Wow, I really need to change my life.'"

In the following year and a half, Jaka shed 65 pounds from his 6-foot-2-inch frame, bringing him to a more healthy weight of 205 pounds through a combination of good eating and exercise choices.

On Sunday, Jaka will be one of thousands of participants meeting at the Orange County Great Park to participate in the Orange County Heart Walk sponsored by the county chapter of the American Heart Assn.

The association aims to attract 15,000 people and raise $1.5 million at the annual event, which features a 5K walk or run, a 1-mile "survivor route" walk, kid's fun zone, free blood pressure screenings and CPR demonstrations.

"The big [misconception] is that you can't do anything about it," Michael Bolen, chairman of the American Heart Assn. Orange County Division board of directors, said, referring to heart disease and stroke.

"That's the tragic thing to me, it's largely preventable based on choice and lifestyle," Bolen added. "The way you live and take care of yourself can dramatically reduce your chance of getting sick and dramatically improve your chance of getting better if you do get sick."

About 831,000 Americans die every year from heart disease and stroke, he said.

The association has made wonderful strides over the years improving those numbers, but it's still the No. 1 killer," Bolen said.

Those strives have been made though the association's "double-barrel approach" of research and prevention education, he said.

It's this approach to education that motivates Jaka to encourage family and friends to make more wise decisions regarding diet and exercise.

"People can't take things for granted, always have to work hard and realize that health is huge," he said. "You don't want to be dependent on medications. You want to live a healthy, consistent life, not dependent, and the best way is to live heathy and eat right."

Information: ocheartwalk.kintera.org

If You Go

What: Orange County Heart Walk

When: 8:15 a.m. Sunday.

Where: The Orange County Great Park, entrance at Sand Canyon Avenue and Marine Way, Irvine