Annual ball provides heart benefits

By Clay Wilson

Medical experts maintain that exercise is good for one's heart.

But when that exercise is dancing at the South Metro Heart Ball, it can be good for many hearts.

"A lot of people don't realize that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the United States," said Rene Curtis, who lives in the Henry County part of Jonesboro.

Curtis ought to know. Three years ago, she came uncomfortably close to being a statistic herself.

Cardiovascular disease runs in her family. Her brother, Brian Evans, died of it in 1999 at the age of 41. Nevertheless, Curtis said that when she began developing some of the symptoms of the disease n dizzy spells, shortness of breath and mild chest pain n doctors didn't catch it.

She was misdiagnosed for about a decade, she said, with diagnoses ranging from fibromyalgia to panic attacks to chronic fatigue syndrome.

In 2001, at the age of 44, Curtis went to a hospital emergency room three times in 10 days with heart-related symptoms. Finally, a doctor caught the disease.

Two days later she had emergency bypass surgery on a 90 percent blocked coronary artery.

Now 47, Curtis, the wife of Eagles Landing Country Club General Manager Russ Curtis and mother of Michelle, 29, and John, 14, wants "to do my part as a survivor to raise awareness (of cardiovascular disease)."

She is one of the American Heart Association's Atlanta Chapter "2004 Faces of Cardiovascular Disease." She's also on the sponsorship committee for the Heart Ball.

The ball is the chief annual fundraiser for the South Metro branch of the AHA. Last year, according to 2004 Heart Ball Chairwoman Julie Griffin, the event drew almost 300 people and raised more than $66,000.

This year's goal is to top $100,000.

Like Curtis, Griffin has a personal link to the AHA's mission. Her husband of 15 years, Bob, received a heart transplant in 1998.

Bob Griffin was on the transplant waiting list for two-and-a-half years. His wife says that technology and medicines developed through AHA-sponsored research "really were able to keep Bob alive until we could get the (transplant)."

In fiscal year 2002-03, according to Heart Association information, the association put more than $348 million into research, education and advocacy. Griffin said the organization is funding 214 multi-year research projects, 58 of which are at Georgia universities and hospitals.

"By using the research of the American Heart Association, people can learn about their risk factors and learn how to lessen their risk of cardiovascular disease," said Curtis.

The theme of this year's Heart Ball is "Midnight in the Garden." It will include dinner, dancing, a silent and live auction and a keynote address by Dr. Randy Martin, an expert in noninvasive cardiology and chief medical consultant for WSB-TV.

The guest emcee will be WSB-TV anchor Monica Kaufman. The Headliners, who according to Griffin are "one of the most requested bands in the Southeast," will provide music.

And as in life, sponsors are hoping that the "Midnight in the Garden" will precede daybreak n as Griffin put it: "The dawn of a new day when cardiovascular disease is not America's number-one killer."