By every measure, the American Heart Association of Maine’s 2017 Go Red Luncheon for women’s heart disease and stroke awareness was record-breaking.

“This was definitely our most successful event ever in terms of dollars raised and attendance,” said Brenda Vitali, a communications director with the American Heart Association.

A remarkable 640 people attended the middle-of the-day event March 7 at Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland. It lasted four hours, from the auction and breakout information sessions to the heart-healthy lunch and survivor stories, and raised $347,000 for heart disease and stroke awareness and research.

“I think it’s our obligation to make each generation healthier,” said event committee chair Melissa Smith, chief executive officer of Wex. “Today is a piece of that. The importance of research funding can be seen every day at our local hospitals and hospitals across the country.”

“If there wasn’t all this information and support to teach surgeons around here, I wouldn’t be alive,” said Monica Salamone, who has a mechanical heart valve. “It’s the reason I’m here today.”

“We’ve made enormous progress in the area of reducing loss of life and disability from heart disease,” said Dr. David Howes, president and chief executive officer of Martin’s Point Health Care. “Advocacy and research have made a huge difference.”

“Without organizations like this, they wouldn’t have made all the medical advances and have nearly as much knowledge as they have now,” said Katie Madden, who was born with a heart defect and is the mother of four children. “I feel like every time I go to the doctors’ they know more information.”

Besides fundraising, the luncheon educates hundreds of people to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease and stroke.

“This event is very visible, with everyone wearing red, and the more word gets out, the healthier people can be,” said Sandra Monfiletto of Martin’s Point Health Care.

The survivor stories during the luncheon can be tearjerkers, but in the best possible way – especially for other survivors.

Jordan Shiers of Gorham, who had a stroke last year at the age of 23, was encouraged to meet other young stroke survivors in the middle of their careers, like attorney Amy Olfene, who shared her incredibly moving personal story during the luncheon.

Others who met at last year’s luncheon, like heart defect survivor Meghan Snow and two-time stoke survivor Sarah Porter, greeted each other like dear friends.

“It’s a little overwhelming at times to see how many people are aware and really do care,” said Snow, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“I felt so alone after my first stroke, but through the American Heart Association I met other survivors,” said Porter, who joined the board of directors.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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