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Fess Parkers DoubleTree Resort served as an inspirational and powerful setting for the American Heart Association’s 2014 Santa Barbara Go Red for Women Luncheon on Valentine’s Day. The annual fundraiser gathers the community together in support of research and education for heart disease.

On its 10th anniversary, the American Heart Association continues to work toward a heart-healthy community by raising awareness about the disease and stroke, respectively the Nos. 1 and 2 killers of women in Santa Barbara County.

“This disease along with many diseases are preventable,” AHA executive director Lisa Dosch told Noozhawk. “There are things that we can do. We just need to do be aware of it and make sure that we are being proactive.”

The day’s full schedule included a health expo with free echocardiogram and cholesterol screenings, along with hands-on CPR training presented by American Medical Response. Also part of the program was a healthy cooking demonstration with celebrity chef and Karma Chow founder, Melissa Costello.

“What’s important for women to remember is that we are the caregivers of our house and we forget to take care of our own health,” Dosch said. “But we need to be healthy for our own families, and so I hope that we inspire everyone to go home and do just that: care for themselves and all those they love.”

KEYT News Channel 3 anchor Shirin Rajaee was the lively and dynamic emcee welcoming the crowd and introducing the luncheon’s passion speakers, Will Bowden and Sarah Jaimes.

Bowden, 40, an avid runner, healthy-eater and member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, was diagnosed with high blood pressure two years ago at a Go Red for Women luncheon health expo. He was shocked to discover that his blood pressure was 198 over 110, and he was immediately advised to go to an emergency room, where he was diagnosed with chronic heart disease.

“I realized that I have a disease that I have to carry around for the rest of my life,” Bowden said.

During his touching testimony, he encouraged the room of supporters who were adorned in red attire to not be led by fear and to get themselves screened.

“Fear of the unknown can be tough but you can educate yourself and find out just what options are out there, and make a donation to the American Heart Association,” Bowden said. “This organization can save your life.”

Jaimes was a 38-year-old mother working in the mortgage industry when she started experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack that were at the time misdiagnosed as complications from stress, hormones and caffeine.

Twenty months later, she lost consciousness on the freeway while driving home from the gym, only to be jolted awake by her head bobbling and experiencing severe chest pains. She rolled down a window, turned up the radio full blast and forced herself to stay conscious by singing songs until she got home.

The next day, she contacted Sansum Clinic and underwent a series of tests with a diagnosis of Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO).

“I basically had a very large hole in my heart,” Jaimes said.

Fighting for her life, she contacted AHA and was referred to its board president, Dr. Joseph Aragon, who specializes in intervention cardiology and structural heart disease. Soon after, Jaimes underwent surgery to have the PFO heart device closure, a procedure that seals the hole in her heart.

Seven months after surgery, Jaimes participated in the AHA annual Heart Walk and she regularly attends a fitness boot camp at 6 a.m.

“I’ve been empowered by this whole experience,” she said. “I’m on fire.”

In closing, she encouraged the audience to support AHA and to educate themselves about heart disease.

“The American Heart Association is all about educating you, and the Go Red for Women luncheon is exactly that,” she said. “It’s about inspiration, education and making choices that may save your life.”

AHA Leadership Committee member David Edelman of Fielding Graduate University emphasized the importance of participation, not only for women but for men, too.

“Sometimes the men have to come and step up to the plate for the support of the women in their lives,” Edelman said. “I think that’s really critical that even in an event that’s designed for women, men are here and they are involved and they are connected.”

Keynote speaker, comedian and motivational speaker Diana Jordan made sure the afternoon closed in a positive mood, noting that “laughter increases the endorphins.”

Lead luncheon sponsor Union Bank donated $33,000 to the cause, and other upcoming AHA fundraisers include National Walking Day on April 2, the Santa Barbara Heart Beach Ball on May 3, Santa Maria Heart and Stroke Walk on May 17, Wine Country Heart and Stroke Walk on June 7, the 23rd annual Santa Barbara Heart and Stroke Walk and Running Red for Heart 5K on Sept. 27, and the San Luis Obispo Heart and Stroke Walk on Oct. 11.

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.