Chris Clark and Colleen Magee-Uhlik do chores at Therapeutic Ranch for Animals and Kids.


As Valentine's Day nears, volunteers hope Tucsonans will forgo candy, flowers and jewelry in favor of a heartfelt investment in community health through the 51st annual Heart Ball.

"The American Heart Association does a lot of good work here, and all of the money we raise goes back to the community through research at the University of Arizona," said Jeff Christensen, incoming chair of the event, to be held Feb. 13 at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.

The Heart Association funded $3.2 million in 19 active research grants to study heart disease and stroke in Arizona last year; 14 of the grants went to the UA. This year, the Heart Ball Committee has emphasized programs that support Children's Heart Healthy Research and educational programs targeting childhood obesity.

Heart Ball Director Lisa Roubal said the organization is trying to bridge gaps left by budget cuts that have slashed physical education and health programs in schools.

"We are working to eliminate childhood obesity and inspire all young people in the United States to acquire lifelong healthy habits, and we are really pushing for that here in Tucson since obesity is a No. 1 health threat for our kids," Roubal said.

The message resonates with Christensen, who has two children. He experienced the devastation of heart disease as a child when his grandfather was disabled by several heart attacks. He has further witnessed the toll taken by heart attacks and strokes as the chief executive officer of HealthSouth.

"I have worked in rehab for almost 25 years. I see lots of patients and families affected by heart disease and stroke disease, and hope to increase awareness in the community about the issues surrounding them," Christensen said.

Prevention is central to the association's 2020 Impact Goal, which seeks to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent.

In conjunction with the goal, the new My LifeCheck Assessment - - provides a seven-step cardiovascular health-assessment tool for people of all ages.

"It helps us to take ownership of our own health. With the health-care issues facing our country, that is something we need to push everyone to do," Roubal said.

That can-do philosophy is embraced by volunteer Bill Holmes, a 34-year Tucson resident who is working closely with Christensen and current Heart Ball chairs Jeff and Camerone Parker.

Holmes, the community relations manager for Wells Fargo, believes that supporting the heart association is philanthropically and fiscally sensible since "we are only as strong as the community in which we do business, and through charitable giving our goal is to strengthen our community."

If You Go

What: The 51st Annual Heart Ball

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 13

Where: Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive

Cost: $275 per person

Etc.: Festivities at the annual black-tie event include dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions and live entertainment by the Cosmopolitans Jump Swing Orchestra. All proceeds benefit the American Heart Association.

For more information, or to make an online donation: Visit www.americanheart.orgor call Lisa Roubal at 795-1403.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at