Benefit to feature fashion show/ Cotton Club

Similar to last year's event, this year's Fashion Show/Cotton Club will have food, auctions and a runway walk featuring Tu Nidito children accompanied by local celebrity models.

When Tucson entrepreneur and star athlete Steven M. Gootter died unexpectedly from sudden cardiac death at age 42, his family and friends felt devastation, anger and grief. Then they did something about it.

They channeled their sorrow into the Steven M. Gootter Foundation to conquer sudden cardiac death - SCD - through education, awareness and research.

Since 2005, they have raised more than $1 million toward their goal of $2 million to fund the Steven M. Gootter Chair for the Prevention and Treatment of Sudden Cardiac Death. The endowed chair will allow the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center to recruit and retain top-notch faculty members to research SCD.

"We have raised a lot of money in a short time," said Bobby Present, a member of the large, diverse group of friends who played tennis with the 1980 Arizona high school doubles tennis champion.

"I think it has been cathartic for everyone to focus on something that can potentially help so many people."

Present is a founding member and president of the foundation, which also funds the Steven M. Gootter Investigator Awards. The smaller-scale grants - generally $25,000 to $50,000 - have supplied seed money for eight Sarver scientists' research into potential cures for SCD, according to Andrew Messing, the foundation's vice president.

"The researchers have told us that without these grants, the work they have come to Sarver to perform would be that much more difficult," Messing said. "If it turns out the research has merit, the investigators can apply for larger grants from organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association."

In another move to prevent avoidable deaths from sudden cardiac arrest, last fall the foundation provided 32 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to local high schools, Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson, the Reffkin Tennis Center (formerly Randolph Tennis Center), churches, synagogues and community centers.

Foundation Director Claudine Messing, Gootter's sister, is committed to sparing other families the tragedy of SCD, which she said is the leading cause of natural death in the United States and can strike people of any age at any time.

"AEDs are like life insurance," she said. "We hope they are never used but chances are they will be, and if we can save one life then our whole project is worthwhile."

If You Go

• What: The fifth annual Gootter Grand Slam.

• When: The Super Gootter USTA Junior Classic begins at 8 a.m. March 27 at Reffkin Tennis Center (formerly Randolph Tennis Center), 50 S. Alvernon Way. Spectators are welcome; go online to for more information.

The gala dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. March 27 at Skyline Country Club, 5200 E. St. Andrews Drive. Tickets are $150 per person; sponsorships are available for the weekend benefit.

The tennis tournament begins at 9 a.m. March 28 at Reffkin Tennis Center. The pro exhibition begins at noon. Cost is $25 per person for spectators and $40 per families and includes tournament action and the exhibition, which features former No. 1-ranked player in the world Mats Wilander, former Top 10-ranked player Mikael Pernfors and local celebrities such as Mike Stoops.

Festivities also include food, live music and a health and wellness fair.

For tickets or more information, go online to or call 615-6430.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at