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Guest of honor Betty Stephens (center) with her daughter Joi Stephens (right) and executive director Lisa Dosch (left)

Robin Karlsson

Guest of honor Betty Stephens (center) with her daughter Joi Stephens (right) and executive director Lisa Dosch (left)


Hearts Come Together at 16th Annual Santa Barbara Heart Ball

The American Heart Association Fundraiser Honors Betty Stephens


About 200 supporters of the American Heart Association turned out on Saturday for the 16th annual Santa Barbara Heart Ball to raise funds for cardiovascular disease and stroke research and to honor Betty Stephens.

Stephens, a philanthropist and community activist, has over the years been a passionate supporter of the organization. Her son Bruce suffered a massive heart attack at age 45 and never recovered, passing away in 1999.

In line with her generous nature, Stephens offered her sprawling, picturesque Hope Ranch estate for the event. During the extended cocktail hour, many guests gathered in the pool area overlooking the mountains while listening to soothing sounds from the Rent Party Blues Band and perusing silent auction items. Others sauntered around adjacent lawns with panoramic ocean views while nibbling on an assortment of passed hors d’oeuvres.

On this balmy evening, dinner was held al fresco on a lawn with stunning ocean views. Event co-chairs Diana MacFarlane and Dr. Joseph Aragon warmly welcomed the guests while service of the three-course meal began.

Dr. Aragon then noted “that it is through the Heart Association’s groundbreaking research that cardiologists” like himself “are able to perform important procedures to save lives every year and every day. The association provides our hospitals with guidelines to ensure the best possible outcomes for heart and stroke patients from the moment they arrive at the hospital until well after they leave.”

He continued, “In addition to funding many community programs in critical education as well as cutting edge research, one of our key focuses this year is in educating and training the entire community on the life-saving skill of hands-only CPR. CPR trainings and awareness are an especially important focus for this year’s Heart Ball host. Had someone been nearby Bruce when this incident occurred and administered CPR, he might still be here today.”

According to Aragon, “89 percent of people who suffer a cardiac arrest outside the hospital don’t survive, often because people around them don’t step in and perform CPR. Hands-only CPR provided immediately after a sudden cardiac arrest can triple a victim’s chance of survival.”

Aragon said that Heart Ball funds aid in such training efforts. “So far this year we’ve conducted CPR trainings at the Heart and Stroke Walk, our Go Red for Women Luncheon, at Santa Barbara High School, at Paseo Nuevo and Santa Barbara County Social Services,” he explained.

David Edelman, a close friend of Stephens and a longtime supporter and volunteer at the American Heart Association, proclaimed to the crowd that Stephens “has the biggest heart” which explains why she is hosting an event that is honoring her. Edelman noted that Stephens has been actively involved with at least 15 area nonprofits and thanked her for everything she has done for the community.

After receiving an extended standing ovation, Stephens explained that she came from Alabama when times were hard and she is used to always helping people. She quickly shifted the focus to the audience, commenting on how wonderful it was for everyone to be there. With humbleness and affection she remarked, “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.”

Stephens is a former chief executive of Excel-Mineral (the maker of Jonny Cat and other cat litter products).

Joi Stephens, Betty’s daughter and a board member, spoke from the heart in sharing how the family did not see her brother’s symptoms and were devastated by the loss. The family decided to learn the symptoms and get tested. “Had my brother been tested, he would be here tonight,” she explained, and appealed to the audience to join her family in supporting the American Heart Association’s efforts in battling the disease. Many obliged – the event raised over $100,000.

The Central Coast chapter of the American Heart Association, located in downtown Santa Barbara, operates a variety of educational programs and conducts fundraising events. Through its CPR training, 8,233 Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo community members have learned CPR.

The American Heart Association is second only to the Federal government as a funder of cardiovascular disease and stroke research. Since 1949, it has invested over $3.8 billion. At UCSB, it has invested $1.6 million in 20 research projects.

For more information on the American Heart Association, click here www.heart.org

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