[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the luncheon.]

The American Heart Association Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Bacara Resort & Spa was indeed an affair of the heart. Nearly 500 attendees wore red in support of the “Go Red” campaign to raise awareness of heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women.

“I’m positive that every person here today has been impacted by the American Heart Association,” board president Dr. Joseph Aragon said as he looked around the room, which was bustling with activity. “If you or a loved has had bypass surgery, been saved by CPR, or is taking blood pressure or cholesterol medication daily, they have been directly impacted by the research funded by the American Heart Association, and we will continue to pave a path every day towards a healthier community.”

The Go Red for Women movement, now in its 10th year, was created by women for women as a way to take a stand for women’s heart health, often misconceived as a man’s disease. In reality, the disease is more deadly to women than all forms of cancer combined.

Montecito Family YMCA Executive Director Joan Russell-Price spoke of the impact that healthy living and awareness have had in her life and for the community at large.

“The Y has always been important to people’s health, and this event for women’s heart health has always been important,” Price said. “But it became even more important to me this year when I was diagnosed with micro vascular heart disease, and I have none of the typical symptoms of high cholesterol, high blood pressure or any of that. I was diagnosed after experiencing chest pains while exercising.”

Price elaborated on the effect that the American Heart Association has had as a resource for women’s heart health, “which I think is very important because women’s symptoms tend to be different than men’s and women tend to not know that they’re at risk.” 

The numbers of women affected by heart disease are staggering. Annually, more than 400,000 deaths among American women are caused by cardiovascular disease, and 6.6 million women in the United States are impacted by coronary heart disease. According to a 2012 report from the American Heart Association, 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.

The association strives to save lives — one heart at a time — by implementing the nationwide Go Red for Women campaign in an effort to combat heart disease and educate communities on prevention and treatment options.

In just a decade, the association has raised more than $300 million in support of vital research, education and resources for women nationwide — providing lifesaving information to millions of women and saving more than 627,000 lives.

The afternoon kicked off with a lively health fair that included free echocardiograms, cholesterol screenings and educational breakout sessions. Various fitness and nutrition experts were also on hand showcasing health-related resources and conducting live demonstrations.

Lunch was served in the main ballroom, which was quickly immersed in shades of crimson as guests found their seats in preparation for the heart-healthy lunch and awards presentation.

Tables were laden with baskets of fresh vegetables and gift bags filled with goodies, such as a Go Red for Women pin and a $10 Macy’s gift card, a national sponsor that has raised $40 million over a span of 10 years toward the cause.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider shared a welcome message and was followed by personal trainer and life motivator Jenny Schatzle, who told Noozhawk how she became involved with the Go Red for Women program at the encouragement of friend Jill Fonte from Sansum Clinic.

“I have a passion to change peoples lives and I really believe everybody has to start somewhere, and my program is really about every single level,” Schatzle said. “You can come into my class and there will be everyone, from firefighters to mothers who had babies two months ago. It’s unbelievable and we are all about creating a positive fitness community here in Santa Barbara, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Prior to her keynote address, Schatzle told Noozhawk the main topic of her speech and the three key tools that changed her life.

“To be present in your life. To work on really not worrying about your past, not looking too far in the future, and accepting and loving yourself every single day,” Schatzle said. “The next one is to make positive choices because a positive action has a positive reaction, which creates positive opportunities, hence the reason I am here today. And the last one is all about confidence, because the hottest thing you can wear is your confidence.”

Following Schatzle were inspired words from the event’s passion speaker, Alethea Tyner Paradis, who shared an eye-opening story of her own challenges with a heart condition unforeseen from a healthy past with low-cholesterol and low-blood pressure as a 41-year old mother, vegetarian her whole life, and avid participant in yoga, hiking and running.

Paradis spoke of feeling what felt like heartburn after exercising and for days was convinced that her condition would pass until she ended up in the emergency room at Cottage Hospital. It was discovered that her lower-anterior descending ventricle was 99 percent blocked, and after a stent was put in she went into full cardiac arrest.

“It is only because I was on the table at that very moment that I survived,” Paradis said. “If I had waited — if I had tried to keep ‘toughing it out’ — I would have died at home in bed. By the grace of advanced medical research I have had my arteries opened and stents placed inside to keep my blood flowing and heart pumping strong.”

During the awards presentation, diners enjoyed a Greek orzo salad compliments of Whole Foods with pan-seared Pacific salmon and Santa Barbara prawns courtesy of the Bacara culinary team.

Janet Garufis, president and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust, received the Lifestyle Change Award from Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, and Rona Barrett, former entertainment news producer and founder of the Rona Barrett Foundation, presented the Community Leadership award to Betty Hatch, CEO and founder of the Santa Barbara Council for Self-Esteem, Santa Barbara County Film Council and Leadership Santa Barbara County.

Barrett told the audience that she believes in preventive medicine, which was why she was wearing a heart monitor to ensure that her heart was healthy, and described her longtime friend, Hatch, as “loving and courageous.”

Upcoming events for the American Heart Association include National Walking Day on April 3, the Wine Country Heart Walk on April 7, the Santa Maria Heart Walk on May 19, the Santa Barbara Heart Ball on May 4, the Santa Barbara Heart Walk on Sept. 21 and the San Luis Obispo Heart Walk on Oct. 5.

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

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.