At the American Heart Association’s Hearts on Ice fundraiser Jan. 17 at Aura in Portland, more than a dozen heart attack and stroke survivors, wearing light-up red heart necklaces, were the toast of the party.

Among them was Monica Salamone, who experienced a life-threatening aortic dissection at age 34, weeks after giving birth to her second son. Nearly 10 years (or “3,345 bonus days”) later, and now a radiologic technologist in the cardiac catheterization lab at Maine Medical Center, Salamone toasted to all survivors in the room.

“My heart is full for the life I’ve been gifted,” she said.

Also wearing a flashy heart necklace was Ashley Deeb, who was 21 when she went into heart failure from a previously undetected congenital heart defect.

“People think heart disease only impacts a certain person of a certain age,” Deeb said. “I started having symptoms as a child but was too afraid to speak up. I want people, particularly those who think there might be something wrong but are too afraid to say anything, to feel confident and comfortable doing so.”

Jack Lufkin, 50, of Portland was among the survivors who trusted his gut. He didn’t get on a flight in 2016 because he was having severe indigestion, which can be a symptom of a heart attack. And, in his case, it was.

“I learned my symptoms from attending the Go Red luncheon about four weeks before my heart event,” said Lufkin, who co-chairs the Circle of Red donors committee. “Education is key, and then getting checked out.”

Survivors often become active supporters, like Robert Hatem of Scarborough, who has raised money in the Southern Maine Heart Walk all 20 years since his heart attack at age 38.

“I’m still ticking,” he said, adding that he has a pacemaker.

More than 100 Mainers made it downtown for the event, even though Portland was cleaning up from an all-day snowstorm. Thanks to sponsors including NBT Bank, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Vera Roasting, live and silent auctions, and the opportunity to donate via text, the third annual Hearts on Ice raised $21,000 for heart disease and stroke prevention and research.

The American Heart Association is funding more than $1.1 million in cardiovascular research in Maine, including a study on the heart benefits of resveratrol, found in red wine, led by Maine Medical Center cardiac surgeon Michael Robich.

“Without the support of the American Heart Association, my project and many others wouldn’t happen,” Robich said. “As a physician, you can help one patient a time, but as a researcher you have potential to help thousands of patients.”

The association’s next major fundraiser in Maine is the Go Red for Women luncheon March 19 at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].

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