A Legacy of Heart Healthy Giving Supports Groundbreaking Cardiovascular Research

Photography by Wes Battoclette


When it comes to matters of the heart, Greater Cincinnati has a track record of giving that is among the most generous in the country.  

The 23rd annual Greater Cincinnati Heart Ball, scheduled for February 20 at the Duke Energy Convention Center, is expected to raise more than $1 million to support the research and education mission of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA). The Heart Ball is one of the largest galas in the country benefitting the AHA/ASA, grossing $1.2 million last year. The Heart Ball is also the number one fundraising gala in the Tri-State. 

What makes the event so successful and the Cincinnati area so generous? Those involved offer a number of reasons.

“The amount of support from Cincinnati and the region is really unparalleled from any place that I have been. People are giving and recognize a worthy cause,” says Richard Becker, MD, physician in chief at the University of Cincinnati Heart, Lung & Vascular Institute, who arrived in town two years ago. “Obviously, people in this area recognize that cardiovascular disease and stroke is a worthy cause since they are the number one cause of death, disability and healthcare expenditures in this country.”

“The Heart Ball has been set up as a celebration rather than just a fundraising event,” says Loren Hiratzka, MD, medical director of Cardiac Surgery for TriHealth’s Bethesda North Hospital, who also is involved with national fundraising efforts for the AHA. “It is a celebration of the success accomplished by the American Heart Association and the scientists and clinicians who are involved in programs that come out of its efforts.” TriHealth Heart Institute has been a presenting sponsor for the Heart Ball for the past several years. 

Board president of the Greater Cincinnati AHA/ASA, DP Suresh, MD, also weighed in on the success of the Heart Ball. “The AHA/ASA is a great organization with clear goals and a wonderful group of volunteers willing to open their hearts and minds.”

Suresh, who is medical director, heart and vascular, at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky also cited the camaraderie among the area’s often-competitive hospital systems when it comes to heart healthy fundraising. A perfect example is this year’s Heart Ball which is unique in that two major hospital systems  – TriHealth Heart Institute and St Elizabeth Healthcare Heart and Vascular Institute – partner as co-sponsors of the Heart Ball for the first time. Traditionally hospital systems have alternated as the main healthcare sponsor. 

“We wanted to be more inclusive. This is not about competition, it is about helping people with heart disease,” says Suresh.

Hiratzka agrees, “When you have a worthy cause you have a shared mission. The hospital systems of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are essentially one voice and one shared mission when it comes to treating and preventing heart disease and stroke.” 

The success is also attributed to a dedicated cadre of volunteer community leaders exemplified this year by co-chairs John and Kerry Mongelluzzo, who have done volunteer work for the AHA/ASA for many years. John, a heart disease survivor, discovered the disease ran in his family and became dedicated to playing a role in prevention for his children and other families. 

“We want to support the medical and research community with the mission of decreasing the mortality rate,” John says.    

“The local doctors are so passionate about what they do,” says Kerry.  “Awareness and prevention is so important and after John had his heart issue, the other family members got checked out.”

The Mongelluzzo’s are heavily involved in the Greater Cincinnati community and support many worthwhile charities.  Their expertise and leadership is a major contributing factor to the Heart Ball success.

Although the black-tie event supports a serious cause, the Heart Ball itself is quite simply a good time. This year’s celebration includes an appearance by Food Network’s Alton Brown and recognizes this year’s Heart of the City honoree, Dave Herche of Enerfab, Inc. It also includes a silent and live auction and the hugely popular Young Professionals’ After Party. 

“The After Party has become one of the hottest tickets in town,” says Sia Ruppert, Heart Ball director at the Cincinnati AHA. “Our Young Professionals are an outstanding group and it is wonderful for our organization to engage the support of our next generation of community leaders.”  

The YP After Party begins at 10 p.m. and includes dancing with Johnny Clueless and DJ Ron Mixico, photo booth, party games, giveaways and late night bites.  Tickets may be purchased online at cincinnatiheartball.heart.org or at the door on the night of the Ball.

Heart Ball Rolls All Year Long Through Outreach

 Funds raised through the Heart Ball are used to implement outreach programs that help the youth in our city throughout the year. The largest of these programs is Recess in the Stadium, sponsored by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Recess is a free event for children 4-16 and their families that lets kids play on the field of Paul Brown Stadium. This collaboration with the Cincinnati Bengals drew 2,000 children and their families last year. “We also have an education program for parents and their children with nutrition information, hands-only CPR training and BMI screening,” says Mark McDonald, assistant vice president of the Heart Institute at Cincinnati Children’s.  “It’s a nice mix of getting active and knowing what it means to be heart healthy inside and out.”

In partnership with the Cincinnati Reds, TriHealth Heart Institute and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, the AHA/ASA also co-sponsors a Fit for Life Boot Camp promoting exercise and healthy eating. And this year the AHA is launching a new program with Cincinnati Works, an organization which helps the chronically unemployed find jobs.  The AHA will offer heart-healthy lunch and learns for the Cincinnati Works members as a way to educate the parents and hopefully break the unhealthy cycle of this underserved population in Cincinnati.

For tickets and information about the Heart Ball, visit cincinnatiheartball.heart.org. 

The Cincinnati affiliate of the American Heart Association is located at 5211 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227. For more information contact Sia Ruppert at 513.842.8863 or by email at sia.ruppert@heart.org.