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Gala raises $266,000 for South Asian Heart Center

Photo By: Courtesy of MP Singh Photography
Photo Courtesy Of Mp Singh Photography

Los Altos residents, from left, Priya Dharan, Ashish Mathur, Poornima Kumar and Nimish Mehta attend El Camino Hospital’s South Asian Heart Center’s “Scarlet Night” fundraiser.

El Camino Hospital’s South Asian Heart Center raised $266,000 at its sixth annual “Scarlet Night” fundraiser, held March 9 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

The funds will support the center’s programs and services to reduce the risk of heart disease among South Asians, who are more than four times at risk of getting heart disease than the general population.

The center has screened more than 4,000 participants, case-managed 1,600 high-risk individuals for more than a year, created a Bay Area network of more than 300 referring physicians and trained 800 physicians on methods for early diagnosis, comprehensive evaluation and lifestyle changes.

“We are incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support from the community to help us raise valuable awareness and funds to support the center’s ongoing work,” said Ashish Mathur, executive director of the center. “We are here to provide education and resources to address one of the greatest health crises facing our community today, and hopefully serve as a model of comprehensive, culturally appropriate care for other communities across the country and the world.”

Personal perspectives

The gala featured master of ceremonies Raj Mathai of NBC Bay Area, a performance by the Mona Khan Dance Company and personal testimonies from those affected by heart disease.

Columbia Business School professor and keynote speaker Dr. Sheena Iyengar shared her story.

“I waited 30 years to tell this story,” Iyengar said to the standing-room-only audience at the primary fundraising event for the South Asian Heart Center.

Iyengar recalled the day her father collapsed and died after suffering three consecutive heart attacks. She was 13 – and he was just 43.

Iyengar’s emotional story included everyday details: a morning confrontation between the teenage girl and her father over her academic and after-school activities and seemingly coincidental choices that led to delays before he reached the emergency department.

She revealed additional details that led to her father’s untimely death, including an earlier mix-up with a doctor’s appointment that prevented an early diagnosis of a blood clot that led to the heart attacks. She said dozens of small choices that day and in the months and years before led to that fateful event.

“Did he die by accident?” she questioned. “Was it fate, chance or choice? Which one is more right or true? He knew from his early 30s that he had high blood pressure and cholesterol.”

Iyengar allowed that more exercise and a better diet could have changed things.

“My father made some pretty bad choices – small choices – and I wondered if he might have lived had these choices been different,” she said.

Iyengar’s story struck a chord with organizers and attendees alike.

“As a South Asian, I don’t think you could listen to that speech and not apply it to your own life and experiences,” said Nimish Mehta, co-chairman of the gala. “As South Asians, we sometimes cling to the belief that our fates are predetermined, and we personally have little control. But every day we make choices. Once we accept that, as Dr. Iyengar said, we never go back, we only go forward, and at the very least we can avoid making the same mistakes we made yesterday.”

El Camino Hospital CEO Tomi Ryba capped off the evening by challenging women in the audience to take care of themselves.

“You put the health of others first,” she said. “I challenge you to make the phone call to the South Asian Heart Center now. The leading cause of death for women is heart disease.”

Funds raised are spent on prevention (63.3 percent), outreach (11.2 percent), research (8.3 percent) and education (7.3 percent). Less than 10 percent of the center’s total revenue is spent on general, administrative and fundraising expenses.

For more information, visit www.southasianheartcenter.org.

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