The American Heart Association got a financial booster shot this May, when Palm Beach philanthropists, Sarah “Sally” Ross Soter (right), and husband Bill, donated $5 million to the cause. Billed to fund the Sarah Ross Soter Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Research, the gift was the first toward the AHA’s newest campaign, Go Red for Women Research Network, a Strategically Focused Research Network that specifically aims to “unite elite research institutions across the country to focus efforts around improved health outcomes specific to women.”
As the number one leading cause of death of women, heart disease has quite literally touched every American in some way, shape, or form. The AHA’s research and programs are designed to stem, and hopefully reverse this trend by funding more heart and stroke research than any organization outside of the U.S. government.
Tackling the issue of hearth disease is something near and dear to Soter, who was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat. “To be able to fund something that could help women and heart disease is very rewarding,” said Soter. “There’s so much we still don’t know and I believe the American Heart Association has developed an approach that will help answer some of the unknowns.”
Soter has long been an advocate for women’s heart health, especially with healthcare disparities—“ rich or poor, regardless of gender, ethnicity and income, you would have a chance at a different life,” she said. To that point, Soter established the first-ever endowed chair exclusively for women’s heart health at Ohio State University Medical Center, and is a “founding funder” of the AHA’s Teaching Gardens, a program that established gardens at six Palm Beach County elementary schools. The Teaching Gardens are a preemptive strategy in battling heart disease and obesity, with a goal of teaching children the importance of a balanced diet—and that veggies are tasty—while offering students (grades first through fifth) a learning, growing laboratory that touches on lessons in math, science, and nutrition, all while teaching them where food actually comes from. With the establishment of the Sarah Ross Soter Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Research, Soter is helping ensure that greater research will be done for all to benefit, which is vital, considering how little we still know.
Sarah “Sally” Soter, middle, at one of the American Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens.
As more and more research moves forward, the differences in heart disease between men and women continues to unfold. Yet, there are still gaps in how to best diagnose, treat, and prevent it. And these gaps, according the AHA, mean there is a lack of information on whether women react differently to heart disease, how well diagnostic methods work with women, and if women respond differently to treatment then men. Through the Sarah Ross Soter Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Research, and the Go Red for Women Research Network, the AHA hopes to narrow these gaps in order to better diagnose and treat those suffering from heart disease, a disease that literally affects one in three American adults.
“This disease hits everyone,” Soter said. “It doesn’t matter who you are — it just doesn’t.”