For Beth Weagraff, the battle to save lives from heart disease and stroke is personal. By 22, she had lost both of her parents to cardiovascular disease.
“Losing a parent is something you never get over,” the Winter Park resident said.
But Beth decided to take the energy behind her loss and turn it into something more positive. She and her husband, Steve Weagraff, are co-chairing an event for the American Heart Association — its annual Heart Ball, which will take place on Saturday, Feb. 19. The two hope to top last year’s goal by raising $500,000, with 80 percent of the money going directly to the cause.
“I wanted to channel my personal loss into something that could make a difference in the greater good,” said Beth, who is the senior vice president for Florida Hospital. “It was the best way to get over my own grief.”
AHA raises awareness and funds for research to fight America’s No. 1 and No. 3 killers — heart disease and stroke.
Disease touches everyone
Beth and Steve didn’t quite see themselves with such a large role in the event — this is their first year volunteering for the organization — but when the former chair stepped down and they were asked to take their place, they couldn’t say no. Heena Lee, who is on the Ball’s committee, said it’s because the cause is so important and touches so many lives.
“Heart disease is not something that’s going away anytime soon,” Lee said. “It’s an equal opportunity disease.”
Beth agreed, saying that while seeking donations, she hasn’t met one person who hasn’t been personally affected by heart disease. That’s made her fund-raising duties easier, along with being able to share her own story.
“It really does make a difference when you can convey your own passion,” she said.
And Lee sees that, too. She said she decided to help after she saw the work Beth was doing.
“She doesn’t have a generic passion — it’s very personal,” Lee said.
The cause is close to Steve’s heart, as well. His mother suffers from cardiovascular disease, and in June, she had a heart stent placed in one of her arteries because it was blocked. Barbara Weagraff had her husband call Beth for her advice after experiencing back pain.
She’s doing fine now, but not everyone has a Beth to call, and women’s symptoms are not as widely known.
Barbara is pleased about the work the couple is doing, partly in her honor.
“I’m very proud of them,” Barbara said. “It makes me feel very grateful.”
Education is key
Many people, like Steve’s mom, aren’t educated about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. He said events like the Heart Ball are important to get people talking about heart disease and to inform them so that they can take action if they are experiencing symptoms.
“Education can have a big impact on the development of the disease,” said Steve, who is the technical vice president for Convergys. “It’s all about raising awareness.”
Beth’s personal loss has made her highly aware of her risks for heart disease, and staying heart healthy is a family affair for the Weagraffs. They focus on a healthy diet, and stay active together. Both Beth and Steve have run several marathons, and although Beth had to hang up her running shoes because of an injury, she still walks. The two said they plan to continue to volunteer for the AHA and may even chair next year’s Heart Ball.
“It’s one of those organizations I plan to commit to in the long-term,” Beth said. “My heart will always be with the American Heart Association.”
The Heart Ball will be on Saturday, Feb. 19 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.
For more information and to purchase tickets, call the AHA at 407-481-6316 or visit http://tinyurl.com/ahaheartball