The American Heart Association-Santa Barbara Division has announced that Janet Garufis will serve as chairwoman of the association’s 2010 Go Red for Women Luncheon.

Janet Garufis

Janet Garufis

The 10th annual luncheon will be Friday, March 5 at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort. A highlight will be the Health Faire and Expo, featuring blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests, nutrition advice, massage therapists and more.

“More than 41 million American women are living with one or more types of cardiovascular disease, yet only one in five view heart disease as their greatest health threat,” Garufis said. “We are going to change that — first in Santa Barbara, then across the country.”

Garufis, president and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust, stressed that women need to begin prioritizing their own heart health.

“Women are still the primary caregivers in most families. If we are not taking care of ourselves, then we are not taking care of our families,” she said, adding that increasing awareness is the first step.

The Go Red for Women Luncheon is an opportunity to increase awareness as it is designed to create an informative atmosphere that will encourage women in Santa Barbara to become heart health champions. Attendees will learn the risk factors — and how to control them — and warning signs of heart disease and stroke.

Garufis said the luncheon offers Santa Barbara residents an opportunity to invest in the health of their community, while seeing immediate returns through both increased public awareness and research funding.

Funds raised through the Go Red for Women Luncheon support heart and stroke research, as well as public and professional education programs. Research funded by the American Heart Association has yielded important discoveries such as CPR, life-extending drugs, pacemakers, bypass surgery and surgical techniques to repair heart defects.

While the primary goal of the luncheon is education, a major function is also to unite women in the fight against heart disease and stroke. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers and the men who care about them will be encouraged to attend together to learn about prevention, risk factors and warning signs of cardiovascular diseases.

Garufis knows firsthand the importance of ongoing cardiac research, having lost her father to a heart attack when he was 67.

“My father died suddenly of a heart attack,” she said. “That was 15 years ago. He was a great friend and a strong mentor. I miss him every day.

“We are so fortunate today. The ongoing research that has been funded by the AHA though Go Red and other programs has dramatically improved our understanding of risk factors and how to control them. The kind of knowledge that has been developed over the last 15 years could have been instrumental in extending my father’s life and that of others in his family who died from heart disease. He passed away far too soon. He still had so much to offer.”

One of the primary goals of the luncheon is to educate people so that they understand their risk factors and to encourage them to proactively address their heart health.

This is especially true of women and heart disease, Garufis said.

“These are people we care about, people we love,” she said. “We want to keep them around as long as we can. We want to extend their lives, and their quality of life … reducing risk factors creates an improved environment for doing both.”

Garufis said making positive lifestyle changes doesn’t need to be difficult. “Eat baked not fried, take the stairs instead of the elevator, get your blood pressure checked. By taking these tiny steps, you will be making a difference. And they all add up,” she said. “The first choice you need to make is to actually make the changes, to take control of your own heart health, of your life and lifestyle.”

For more information about the luncheon, call 805.963.8862.

— Eric Thompson is the senior director of communications and marketing for the American Heart Association-Santa Barbara Division.