Lisa Dosch, left, executive director of the American Heart Association Central Coast Division, with honoree Betty Stephens and her daughter, Joi Stephens, at the 16th annual Heart Ball held at the Hope Ranch Stephens Estate. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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Hearts were opened in a unified effort to raise funds for cardiovascular disease research with more than 200 candles lifted by supporters in honor of Betty Stephens, local community activist, philanthropist and avid supporter of the American Heart Association, at the Hope Ranch Stephens Estate for the 16th annual Heart Ball.

“It’s a pleasure to be standing before such an honorable group of people with this spectacular view on summer solstice, on such an enchanting property in support of our mission — building healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke,” said Lisa Dosch, AHA of Southern California Central Coast Division executive director. “And this year is particularly special for us as we have the true privilege of honoring Betty.”

Established in 1916, the American Heart Association stands firmly by its mission to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke — the No. 1 and No. 5 killers in the nation.

Saving lives begins with community outreach, education and advocacy — all of which were apparent and put to action at the breathtaking estate as advocates raised more than $100,000 toward the cause.

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Festivities began with a silent auction and cocktail reception as supporters mingled and ventured around a shimmering pool with lush mountain views and pristine gardens.

Following the reception, guests settled in for a delicious heart-healthy, three-course meal al fresco on the lawn, enjoying the panoramic views of the ocean at sunset.

Welcome remarks and warm sentiments of appreciation to sponsors, board members, volunteers and in-kind donors were echoed by Dosch with co-chairs Diana MacFarlane and Dr. Joseph Aragon.

A slideshow presentation followed an informative and passionate speech by Aragon, who proclaimed that the organization continues to strive toward its goal of reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20 percent, and improving cardiovascular health of all Americans 20 percent by the year 2020.

“It’s through the heart association’s groundbreaking research that cardiologists like myself are able to perform important procedures and save lives each and every day,” Aragon said.

The AHA’s state-of-the-art research and educational programs such as the Strategically Focused Research Networks (SFRN) fosters researchers from top medical institutions nationwide who collaborate on specific topics, including women and heart disease, high blood pressure, children and obesity.

Modern advances implemented by researchers, physicians, scientists, engineers and the AHA have made significant strides in medical research and the improvement of a patient’s quality of life.

The Institute of Precision Cardiovascular Medicine utilizes the power of technology, data and DNA to research a patient’s lifestyle and habits to conduct prevention strategies, design new methods of personalized medicine and treatment planning, and in some cases reverse diseases.

Heart Ball live auctioneers Joslynn Jarret-Skelton and 2-year-old daughter and heart survivor Charlie.

Heart Ball live auctioneers Joslynn Jarret-Skelton and 2-year-old daughter and heart survivor Charlie. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

In addition to funding research and education, the AHA Central Coast Division is conducting community-wide lifesaving CPR skills courses — an essential tool that can save lives.

Aragon stressed that 89 percent of people who suffer from cardiac arrest outside of the hospital don’t survive because often people around them don’t step in to perform CPR. Hands-only CPR immediately after cardiac arrest can triple a patient’s chance of survival.

“Funds from our Heart Ball are aiding in these community trainings and efforts,” Aragon told Noozhawk. “This year, we’ve conducted CPR trainings at the Heart & Stroke Walk, our Go Red for Women Luncheon, at Santa Barbara High School, Paseo Nuevo and the Santa Barbara County Social Services — over 8,000 community members have learned CPR.”

A hearty portion of the presentation was dedicated to Stephens, who was seated at a table with family members near the stage. She looked on with misty eyes and an infectious smile as loved ones and friends praised the Southern belle from Alabama for her giving nature and tireless support and advocacy for more than a dozen nonprofits in Santa Barbara County.

Daughter Joi Stephens, an AHA board member, shared the undeniable feelings of grief and loss that the family endured when her beloved brother, Bruce, passed away of a sudden heart attack at age 45, in 1999.

“A heart attack took his life so suddenly. A heart attack left our family with so much pain and so many questions,” she shared. “Why didn’t we see the symptoms? What if? What now? His passing is what inspires us to keep moving forward, to keep up hope for other families, to make a difference and create happier endings. It’s occasions like this when I feel his absence so strongly, and it hurts. It’s occasions like this when I am also inspired by an opportunity to do something about it.

“Mom, I am so proud of you, and I know Bruce would be, too. What we are doing here tonight honors him, which I know is the biggest honor we could give you.”

Betty Stephens’ passion, generosity and inspiration to the entire Santa Barbara community were given to the evening’s honoree and former chief executive of two international mining companies and Excel-Mineral, the maker of Jonny Cat and other cat litter brands

“It’s so wonderful to have you all here this evening,” she said as she addressed onlookers after receiving a standing ovation. “I’m not the one. I just have the venue and the money. I love being here with you, I love having the exchange and learning from you, and I love you so much. Thank you.”

Joslynn Jarrett-Skelton and her daughter, Charlie, 2, a heart survivor, charmed the crowd as the hosts of the live auction. The pair asked the crowd to make a lifesaving gift to the AHA, and raise a candle to honor Betty Stephens.

Jarrett-Skelton explained her turbulent journey with Charlie, who was born on July 1, 2014, missing the left side of her heart and her aorta closed off. The family realized that the road to her recovery would be burdened with uncertainty, surgeries and treatment, but they remained hopeful and determined to do whatever they could to save their precious child.

Charlie underwent the first of three open-heart surgeries just seven days after she was born. During her second surgery, the infant was diagnosed with an irregular heart murmur and administered a pacemaker.

She is one of 4,000 infants born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, but one in every 100 children has a congenital heart defect.

Knowing that no one older than age 30 is living with her daughter’s condition, Jarrett-Skelton said she knew it was important to join forces with causes such as the AHA in order to raise funding for heart research and programs that could give Charlie life into adulthood.

“Like Betty, Joi and their family, our family is doing everything we can to raise awareness and help fund the lifesaving mission of the American Heart Association,” Jarret-Skelton said. “The American Heart Association can change what’s possible and give Charlie a life beyond the age of 30. Because I want to walk Charlie to the first day of school, I want to see her graduate college, help her say ‘yes’ to the dress, and possibly be there when she holds her own baby one day.”

Upcoming events benefiting the AHA include the SLO Heart and Stroke Walk on Sept. 10, the Santa Barbara Heart and Stroke Walk and Run on Sept. 24 and the Santa Maria Heart and Stroke Walk on Oct. 24.

Click here for more information about the American Heart Association of Southern California Central Coast Division.

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

Event co-chairs Diana MacFarlane and Dr. Joseph Aragon.

Event co-chairs Diana MacFarlane and Dr. Joseph Aragon. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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