A party that touches the heart

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Next month, the American Heart Association celebrates 30 years of building healthier lives for Chicagoans through programs that improve our air quality, keep unhealthy junk food out of our children’s school lunches and elevate emergency response treatment for heart and stroke at its Chicago Heart Ball.

Besides the U.S. government, the heart association is the largest funder of research on heart disease and stroke. About 800 people – from Chicago’s business, medical and social communities – are expected at the black-tie event. In addition to both silent and live auctions and live entertainment, the highlight of the evening will be a guest speaker who has been touched by heart disease at a young age. Cause & Event chatted with the “Open Your Heart” chair of this year’s ball, AHA Metro Chicago board president Dr. Stephen Archer, who leads a medical research lab at the University of Chicago.

Q. What are some of the goals and programs that the Chicago Heart Ball supports throughout the year?

A. The money raised is used for research, and also applying new knowledge to educate the community. This is how we fund CPR programs to train kids in schools. This is how we teach about “food deserts,” places in the city where you can’t find a grocery store for blocks, and the challenges it creates for people to eat healthy food. Funding doesn’t go just to high-tech science, but also goes to teaching in schools, teaching kids why they should eat vegetables. All of the clean-air acts have been largely sponsored by the American Heart Association; that’s why we’re not inhaling smoke in the air.

Q. You must have seen so many medical breakthroughs through your career.

A. Yes, the rate at which things change is phenomenal. Thirty years ago if you had a life-threatening heart rhythm problem, at best you might get a medicine, which worked less than half the time. Today you can get an implantable defibrillator, just slightly bigger than a silver dollar, that can save your life.

Q. That is amazing. What has surprised you most about heart research?

A. I’m surprised by how much we find wrong and how quickly we can change it. When I look at the medicine we did decades ago, even when I was training, we didn’t do things for patients over 75; they were “too old.” Anything we think we know is subsequently proven by research to be incorrect. Now 25 years later, we know that age isn’t a barrier to doing state-of-the-art care. Thirty years ago, if you came to a hospital with a heart attack, you’d be on bedrest for two weeks. Now, within minutes of arriving the artery would be opened with angioplasty. That’s the power of research over a very short time.

Q. Who is involved in making this 30th Chicago Heart Ball special?

A. We have three fantastic chairs: Dr. James Dan of the Advocate Medical Group, Fawn Lopez of Modern Healthcare and Tom Wiffler, UnitedHealthcare Illinois. We will also have a fantastic guest speaker, a young lady who got heart disease when she was 14 and underwent a heart transplant. When you see this face of heart disease, a young woman, you realize the heart association isn’t just older men having heart attacks. It’s both genders and all age groups.

The Sun-Times is a media sponsor of the event.

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