- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2014

If you’re looking for a date night redemption because you blew it on Valentine’s Day last weekend, the American Heart Association might just have the ticket for you.

A black-tie gala with cocktails, dinner, a silent auction of getaway vacations, various performances and dancing into the wee hours. And it’s all for charity.

This year’s Greater Washington Region Heart Ball begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the swank Mandarin Oriental hotel on Maryland Avenue SW, and the Heart After Dark party begins at 9 p.m.

The annual ball’s theme is inspired by its venue, so the Mandarin Oriental’s event will feature references to recent Chinese New Year celebrations and traditional Asian performances throughout the night.

Still, the night’s focus will be the Heart Association’s fundraising for research and preventive efforts. More than 500 medical, business and community leaders from Virginia, Maryland and the District are expected to attend.

“We are here raising money for this amazing cause that people don’t like to think about, but affects us all,” said Heart Ball Chairman Matt Voorhees. “We need all the help we can get to help prevent premature deaths from heart disease and stroke.”

Last year’s ball fell a bit short of the $1.5 million goal for donations. This year’s goal is $1.6 million.

Most of the money raised during the ball goes back to the D.C. Metro area as research grants.

“Research with a disease like this is extremely important. The AHA is the No. 1 source of medical research,” said Robert Franklin, deputy chairman of the Heart Ball. “Primarily because of federal budget cuts, a lot of funds were reduced for organizations like the National Institutes of Health. Now medical researchers are going to the American Heart Association for the funding of research.”

Mr. Voohees said the Far East theme of this year’s event also reflects the element of chance that is involved with heart disease and treatment.

“There is a little bit of chance and luck, which is kind of how heart disease is as well,” he said. “You could look healthy and still have heart problems. Or you could smoke and be overweight, and not have any heart problems. It’s sort of a preordained thing.”

Each Heart Ball honors a child who is battling heart disease. This year, Dylan Coleman, of Silver Spring, is the special guest. The 1-year-old has multiple congenital heart defects.

“Heart disease does not discriminate,” Mr. Voorhees said. “We think that people overweight or smoke are more apt to have an issue, and they are. But then there are people like Dylan with a genetic fault, and no other.”

Collectively, heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 cause of death in America. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the cause of one-in-four deaths.

AHA-funded research has spearheaded life-changing methods for reducing the effects of heart disease.

“Research has produced things like stints, heart valves and even CPR. These things may seem common place now, but not too long ago, it was a serious thing,” Mr. Franklin said.

“One of the reasons I got involved,” said Mr. Voorhees, “was because my niece, Libby, who was then 15 months old, and is now 11 years old. She had a heart murmur that turned out to be a type of aneurism.”

Research in that area of heart disease led her parents to pursue surgery at Stanford University.

“I’ve lost a father and both grandfathers to heart disease. Thankfully, my niece’s life was saved,” Mr. Voorhees said.

Mr. Franklin said he became involved with the American Heart Association about eight years ago via the MorganFranklin financial consulting firm, which he co-founded.

“It started out as a corporate responsibility. And the Heart Ball was an incredibly fun time. There is so much energy, and it is certainly a great cause,” he said.

When heart disease struck his family, the work that AHA does and the Heart Ball fundraiser event suddenly became more personal to him.

“About three years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with heart disease. That treatment was the direct result of research that was funded by the AHA,” Mr. Franklin said. “My wife and I decided to commit more deeply to the cause, and to get more personally involved. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

If you go:

WHAT: 2014 Greater Washington Region Heart Ball

WHERE: Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, D.C.

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 22, 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $1,000 for reception, dinner and silent auction; $100 for Heart After Dark party beginning at 9 p.m. Donations are tax-deductible.



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