Seated, from left: Wendy Henry, Pat Whitaker Back, from left: Jasmine Huda, Sandra Van Trease, Brenda Newberry, Dr. Kimberly Perry

In her short film Just a Little Heart Attack, produced for ‘Go Red for Women,’ Emmy-nominated actress Elizabeth Banks uses a lighthearted approach to deliver a serious message about heart disease in women. Banks, who directed and stars in the short, was inspired by true stories of women who have been affected by heart disease.

Go Red for Women was created by the American Heart Association in 2004, to raise awareness of heart disease in women, after recognizing that heart disease was often dismissed as something that primarily affects older men. “It’s the No. 1 killer of women,” explains Wendy Henry, chair of the organization’s executive leadership team. “And the symptoms are often so different from the ones most people are familiar with— like tightness in the chest and an arm going numb. It can happen that way in men, but for women, it can be pain in the jaw or the back, or it may feel like indigestion.” The goal of Go Red for Women, Henry adds, is to educate women about their heart health. “Survivors tell us all the time about being sent home from the doctor’s office after being told to take a Tums, and their symptoms later turned out to be something serious.”

After serving as vice chair last year, Henry is the chair for this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon at The Ritz-Carlton on Feb. 3, 2012. “The event is a great opportunity for us to do two things: raise awareness and funds,” she says. “Life-saving information is a big part of the day, which begins with educational sessions before lunch. Guests can receive complimentary health screenings, and then use that information at the Association website to get personalized advice about what they should do differently.”

Corporate and individual sponsorships support research and community progams. “We are nationally sponsored by Macy’s and Merck, and some of our local sponsors are BJC HealthCare, Solae and Peabody Energy, to name a few,” Henry says. Individuals can also commit to the cause. “We have created our Circle of Red, which allows individuals to sponsor a table, as well. And during the luncheon, we do what we call ‘Open Your Heart.’ That’s the appeal at the end of the luncheon, where you’ve heard from our speakers and you have an opportunity to contribute.”

Although it’s not required, Henry says almost everyone wears red to the annual event. “It’s just gorgeous! You walk in and most of the table linens are white, you look across the room at everybody in red, and you just have to smile.” And the food? “Oh, lunch is the best part. The Ritz serves a phenomenal hearthealthy lunch. I’m always impressed at how creative the menu is, and of course, there’s always dessert!”

Survivors’ stories are often shared at the luncheon, and Henry says it’s a very emotional experience. “Last year I invited a couple of men—and yes, men are always welcome—and the gentleman sitting next to me was just sobbing, listening to the stories. He turned to me and said, This doesn’t happen very often.

Henry says the executive leadership team of Go Red for Women is always recruiting people who have a passion for the American Heart Association. “We’re doing a good job of educating people, and helping to save lives,” she says. “And the work must continue.”