Mr. An to be recognized by Gootter Foundation for his philanthropy

Mr. An to be recognized by Gootter Foundation for his philanthropy

Over the past four decades, Kwang C. An — best known as “Mr. An” — has become synonymous with food and philanthropy in Tucson.

As a testament to the heart behind the hands that created a local restaurant empire, the Steven M. Gootter Foundation will honor Mr. An with the 2020 Philanthropic Award during the Annual Gootter Grand Slam Gala Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.

“Mr. An came here with nothing but the shirt on his back and his incredible work ethic. He greatly appreciates the community that Tucson has been for him and wants to give back, not just financially, but with his time and talent. We are thrilled to honor him and everything he has done for our community. It is even more meaningful since he is not a stranger to heart disease and sudden cardiac death,” said Andrew Messing, president of the Gootter Foundation.

An lost his father, grandfather and six of his brothers to heart attacks, all before they reached age 61. He suffered a cardiac arrest at 57 and was resuscitated by an automated external defibrillator, so the Gootter Foundation’s AED Donation Program is important to him.

“My heart stopped and they jumped me with an AED to revive me, so an AED really saved my life. The Gootter Foundation is doing a good job and saving a lot of lives with their programs and research. It is a great cause and I am honored to receive this award. It means I promise to work harder to help raise more funds,” said An.

To date, the Gootter Foundation has gifted more than 350 AEDs to nonprofits, recreation centers, schools, sports programs, churches and locations where people “work, worship and play” as well as to patrol cars with the Tucson, Marana and Oro Valley police departments, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

The foundation also provides training in use of the equipment and promotes awareness about chest compression only CPR in conjunction with REACT through the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center.

“These officers are called to emergency situations and are out on the streets in our community, so it makes sense for them be trained in CPR and AEDs and to have these critical life-saving devices in their vehicles,” said Messing.

The mobile AEDs are a cornerstone of the foundation’s mission to eradicate sudden cardiac death, which claimed the life of Steven M. Gootter, 42, during a morning run 15 years ago.

Sudden cardiac death is typically the result of an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart. Abruptly and without warning, arrhythmia can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the brain and the rest of body; death can occur within 10 minutes unless CPR is administered and an AED is used to restore normal heart rhythm. Messing said many people are unaware that sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of natural death in the United States, killing more than 335,000 people annually.

“No one thinks that sudden cardiac arrest could impact them until something happens to someone they know, and it is usually one of those people you don’t expect ... often someone who is young and fit. You see them taken by this insidious disease and you realize you need to do something to conquer it, and the community has been incredibly supportive of that mission,” Messing said.

That support has garnered more than $5 million to fund scientific research, including the Steven M. Gootter endowed chair for the prevention of sudden cardiac death at the University of Arizona as well as numerous investigator awards at UA Sarver Heart Center.

The research, which is cutting-edge, has returned the amount invested at least five-fold through grants awarded from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, according to Messing.

“We are an incubator, helping these researchers early on by providing seed money for promising studies so they attain can much larger grants. With the research — particularly some of the work they are doing when it comes to genetics — there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel,” Messing said.

Genetic research by endowed chair Dr. Jil Tardiff involves identifying molecular “signatures” of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common cause of sudden cardiac death, in young patients with gene mutations in the effort to develop early interventions to prevent the disorder.

“Lots of these SCD-related diseases are hereditary, and if they know that some parents carry the gene, they can actually make modifications so that the fetus would not be affected. It is mind-boggling, and the great news is that as technology advances, there are more opportunities for these types of research experiments,” said Messing.

Other innovative research includes work by Jared Churko, UA assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine, who just received a second investigator award from the foundation.

Churko’s work involves the use of stem cells from patients with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy, which can also lead to sudden cardiac death. His lab is generating cardiomyocytes (contractile beating heart cells) for further testing and development of possible therapies.

“He can take stem cells from a patient and create beating human heart muscle tissue and then stress the cells to make it seem as if they are being exercised and see how that impacts them. So far it looks like exercise does exacerbate the problem and people with the condition are better off being more sedentary ... it is very cool technology,” said Messing.

For now, Messing is grateful for the collaboration and support the home-grown foundation has received from businesses, government agencies and other organizations over the past 15 years.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at

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