February 8, 2008

When they chose a theme for the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Ball, organizers wanted to inspire guests to look into the future and imagine a world free of childhood obesity and other health risks that lead to heart disease.

The Crystal Ball will take place April 5 at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton at 6 p.m. The evening features dinner and an auction, which features a week-long trip for four on a catamaran and a variety of jewelry donated by Neustaedter’s Jewelry, valued from $1,000 to $2,500. All proceeds raised at the Heart Ball benefit St. Louis-area educational programming and research supported by the American Heart Association, including the Learn and Live Special Appeal, which addresses the critical issue of children’s heart health. Heart-related birth defects, childhood obesity and the dangerous effects of smoking are a few of the issues supported by the new initiative.

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Gordon Knight, who is co-chairing the event with his wife Elaine, says he was happy to lend his time and talents to help organize the event. “Because of my line of work, I naturally gravitated toward their goal to help raise funds for educational programming for children, something I’m very passionate about,” he says. “So many of my patients have heart disease as a result of lifestyle choices that could have been avoided. If we can educate children about the importance of good health at a young age, we can empower them to take better care of themselves for the rest of their lives.”

Knight says when children and young adults adopt poor habits such as a high-fat diet, inactivity or smoking, they become captives of their way of life. “I have operated on people in their 20s who have heart disease as the result of habits like those. That kind of damage, when done early, can be very hard to change later. If people made better choices from the start, they would face fewer serious health risks such as heart disease down the road.”

The fact that all funds raised at the event remain in the St. Louis community also motivated Knight to get involved. “It was important to me that the generosity of those attending the event, who support the mission of the American Heart Association, benefit people in our community.”

Dennis Matheis, a member of the event’s executive leadership team, experienced firsthand how important diet and lifestyle are to overall health. Last summer, he underwent emergency coronary artery bypass surgery. His wife, Vickie, a former cardio-care nurse, recognized potential heart attack symptoms and made sure he immediately sought medical attention. The surgery was successful, and Matheis has improved his diet, lost weight and is in great health. “I was immediately on board with the American Heart Association’s effort to promote a healthier lifestyle,” says Matheis. “Breaking old habits is the hardest thing to do.”

Matheis is president of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Missouri, the event’s presenting sponsor. “In our line of work, we are dedicated to helping people lead healthy lives and avoid problems like heart disease,” he concludes.