Sunday, November 29 , 2015, 6:50 am | Fair 43º

Supporters Open Their Hearts, Minds at Santa Barbara Heart Beach Ball

The Zellet family shares their Passion Story at the annual event benefiting the American Heart Association-Central Coast Division

Erin and Ian Zellet with son and heart survivor Aiden, 2, shared their Passion Story at the 2014 Santa Barbara Heart Beach Ball benefiting the American Heart Association-Central Coast Division held in the Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
Erin and Ian Zellet with son and heart survivor Aiden, 2, shared their Passion Story at the 2014 Santa Barbara Heart Beach Ball benefiting the American Heart Association-Central Coast Division held in the Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

A large crowd of supporters dressed in white flocked to the scenic Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara’s Coral Casino to open their minds and hearts at the 15th annual Santa Barbara Heart Beach Ball benefiting the American Heart Association-Central Coast Division.

The popular event supports local groundbreaking research and lifesaving education to find a cure for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in America.

Guests gathered on the outdoor patio admiring a shimmering sunset that contrasted warmly with the throngs of people dressed in Santa Barbara chic.

Adult Science Night joined the reception and silent auction as supporters soaked in the sun enjoying an array of appetizers.

The festive crowd then made their way to the La Pacific Ballroom for welcome speeches by AHA staff members and special guest speakers before a night of dinner and dancing.

Event co-chairs Tyler and Brittany Dobson proudly hosted an impactful evening having been personally touched by the loss of all four of Tyler’s grandparents and a close friend to heart disease.

Mistress of ceremonies Shirin Rajaee, an anchor and reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3, welcomed the crowd and introduced AHA Executive Director Lisa Dosch, who spoke of the research, education and outreach programs that are provided to raise community awareness.

“What might come as a surprise to you is that about one of three American kids and teens are currently overweight or obese,” Dosch said. “Not only that, but currently less than 1 percent of the population, and no children (ages 12 to 19), meet the AHA criteria for ideal cardiovascular health.”

Dosch elaborated on these staggering statistics and the impact it will have on society over the next 15 years.

“These startling statistics are ones that need to be addressed because if we do not educate our children and empower their parents to start living healthy lifestyles now, then 90 percent of our population will be obese or overweight by the year 2030," she said. "It will also mean that for the first time in history, children are projected to have shorter life expectancies than their parents due to poor diet and lack of exercise.”

Last year, the AHA launched the Healthy Futures program to fight youth obesity in Santa Barbara in order to make big changes in the lives of hundreds of local kids and the success of the program continues to grow.

Empowering youth and their families to make healthier lifestyle choices is the goal of the Healthy Futures program, and in partnership with the local A-OK after-school programs and the Santa Barbara County Office of Education, hands-on education about nutrition and the causes of heart disease are provided to encourage youth to take charge of their health and be more physically active. Those schools included Adams Elementary, Adelante Charter, Franklin Elementary, Harding University Partnership, McKinley Elementary and Cleveland Elementary.

In Santa Barbara County, only 51.5 percent of children ages 2 to 11 and 16.9 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 ate the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

The after-school program made of both student and parent portions consists of four hour-long interactive workshops and one parent session where students learn nutrition basics and parents are encouraged to support and encourage their children toward healthier lives.

In the second Healthy Futures year, the program impacted 180 students and their families in six Santa Barbara schools through the efforts of 15 Healthy Futures volunteers.

During the cocktail reception, Noozhawk sat down with Passion Story speaker Erin Zellet, who shared an amazing story about her 2-year-old son, Aiden, a heart survivor who was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart defect that occurs in about five out of every 10,000 babies.

Babies and children who have Tetralogy of Fallot have episodes of cyanosis, which is a bluish tint to the skin, lips and fingernails. It occurs because the oxygen level in the blood leaving the heart is below normal. Commonly referred to as Blue Baby Syndrome, Tetralogy of Fallot is repaired with open heart surgery, either soon after birth or later in infancy.

Aiden underwent open heart surgery at 3 months old and is now in full recovery — a healthy, joyful and playful 2-year-old boy who is adored and admired by his parents for his resiliency and adventurous spirit.

“It was a tough time for all of us, but he’s an amazing kid now and we wouldn’t have done anything differently,” Zellet said. “We are happy that he is here.”

Zellet went on to praise the American Heart Association and the people who are behind the organization who work toward creating groundbreaking research and technology that saves lives.

“Research is changing rapidly and becoming better to help kids like Aiden, and we are forever grateful,” Zellet said. “When I look at my son I see a bright, positive light — he is a fighter.”

Other programs from AHA include the Go Red for Women campaign, educating hundreds of local women about the risk of heart disease that celebrated its 11th anniversary in February. The event included “a large-scale health fair offering multiple health screenings which equipped attendees with the tools and education necessary to empower them to lead a healthier lifestyle,” Dosch said.

My Heart. My Life. reaches out to local companies and employers to provide the tools necessary to create a culture of physical activity through healthy living initiatives.

“Our Heart Walk last fall celebrated another benchmark with nearly 1,000 participants,” Dosch said. “The funds from this celebratory event benefited the My Heart. My Life. healthy living initiative that provides free tools and resources to our corporate world and families alike. It is through this program that we helped 10 local companies create worksite wellness programs to achieve our Fit-Friendly award status.”

Upcoming events include the Wine Country Heart and Stroke Walk on June 7, the San Luis Obispo Saving Strokes golf event on June 10, the Santa Maria Heart and Stroke Walk on June 21, the Santa Barbara Heart and Stroke Walk Run on Sept. 27 and the National Healthy Eating Day on Nov. 6.

The benefit offered attendees a firsthand account of the profound impact that AHA research and treatment programs have provided for Santa Barbara County residents since 1924.

AHA’s goal is to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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