The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, welcomed more than 130 supporters back to the Lebanon Heart Ball on Saturday, May 21 at the Lebanon Country Club. It was the first time the event was held in-person since April 2019.
“I’ve been a supporter of the American Heart Association for several years, through personal donation, volunteerism, committee engagement and community engagement,” said Rachel Kohr, manager of cardiology services at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital and chair of the 2022 Lebanon Heart Ball. “If our education and our work can help one young person decide not to use tobacco or vaping products, convince one parent to stop using tobacco products so they can live a longer life with their family, or help provide food security to one family, then we have made a difference in this community.”
Jasmine Brooks of CBS 21 hosted the evening’s dinner program that recognized event sponsors and volunteers for their contributions to the American Heart Association and its work in the community. It also recognized local health care and community leaders with the first Live Fierce Awards.
The Live Fierce, Be Well Award was presented to Nicole Maurer Gray, executive director of the Community Health Council of Lebanon County. Nicole’s work includes the promotion of outdoor recreation through events like Tower to Town and Tour de Lebanon Valley and the creation of the Coleman Park Bicycle Playground. She also serves as the mission chair for the American Heart Association’s Lancaster/Lebanon Board of Directors, pioneering the launch of the Simple Cooking with Heart Mobile Kitchen project in collaboration with several other community organizations, bringing nutrition education and healthy cooking skills to wherever it is needed most.
“Nicole Maurer Gray is a bright light in our community whose motivation, creativity and passion are contagious,” said Allison Leitzel-Williams, chair of the American Heart Association Lancaster/Lebanon Board of Directors and president of Leitzel’s Jewelry, which sponsored the award. “Whether she is coaching a youth soccer team, serving an entire county of residents through the Community Health Council, teaching, and training others to live healthier lives or volunteering for the American Heart Association, Nikki lives her life fiercely, completely, and generously.”
The Live Fierce, Stand for All Award was presented to Jane Hepler, sociology and psychology teacher at Cornwall-Lebanon School District. During Jane’s 32 years as a teacher at Cornwall-Lebanon, she led the school’s fundraising campaigns for the American Heart Association and Children’s Miracle Network. She’s involved more than 336 Cedar Crest High School students with the King of Hearts annual fundraiser, raising more than $600,000 for the American Heart Association over the past 28 years. In 2022, the fundraiser had its best year ever, raising $57,000.
“Jane is passionate about teaching her students to see the importance of giving back, whether it is through money or time,” said Kristen Mekulsia, regional president for the south central Pennsylvania region of Northwest Bank, which sponsored the award. “She believes that being a teacher is more than what happens in the classroom. It’s about teaching students how to make a difference.”
The Live Fierce, Reduce Your Risk Award was presented to the pharmacy team at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in honor of the team’s contributions to the local COVID-19 response. According to the hospital, the pharmacy team worked more than 1,500 overtime hours, prepared and dispensed more than 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for use in the hospital and at community clinics, dispensed 7,000 doses of the treatment drug Remdesivir for hospitalized COVID patients and dispensed almost 200 doses of monoclonal antibody medications to prevent worsening of COVID symptoms. The award was accepted on behalf of the team by Steven Thomas, regional director of pharmacy for WellSpan Health.
“Over the past two years we have watched all of our Good Samaritan employees work courageously and tirelessly to care for this community,” said Ginny Follet, senior director of ancillary and support services at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. “This team did their heroic work behind the scenes. They weren’t as widely recognized, yet their contribution was lifesaving.”
In addition to a silent and live auction, guests supported the cause through the Open Your Heart appeal featuring the stories of two local heart attack survivors, Greer Anderson and Dave Southall.
In August 2020 at age 55, local attorney Greer Anderson felt a sudden pain in the center of his chest that made his arms go numb. He initially dismissed the idea that it could be a heart attack because he didn’t have a family history of heart disease and didn’t believe he could be at risk. His symptoms worsened until he eventually called 9-1-1 and was transported to the hospital where he was immediately taken to the catheterization lab to have a stent placed. The next day he received three more stents in another artery. He left the hospital outfitted with a wearable defibrillator, called a Life Vest, until doctors were confident that his heart function had returned to normal.
“I still think about the heart attack a lot – not with fear but to hold onto the awareness of my life, that I am still alive,” said Anderson. “You can either think that life happens to you or that life happens for you. It’s a gift and I hope that others don’t have to have a heart attack to realize that.”
Dave Southall and his wife, Christine, were planning a trip to their cabin when Dave felt lightheaded, weak and shaky and his vision became impaired. His wife recognized that he didn’t look well and got Dave to the hospital where it was determined that he was suffering a heart attack.
“It was the most terrifying part of my life,” said Christine Southall. “Yet there was never a moment when I thought this was the time we were going to lose Dave. I always had faith that he would make it through.”
Dave credits the doctors, nurses, technicians, social workers and cardiac rehabilitation specialists at the hospital for saving his life and ensuring he was able to return home to his family. Now, he’s taking steps to live healthier and cherish every moment with his grandson, with whom he shares a special bond.
The dollars raised by the Lebanon Heart Ball fund the mission of the American Heart Association to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives while working toward the Association’s 2024 Health Equity Impact Goal, reducing barriers to health care access and quality.
This year’s Lebanon Heart Ball was sponsored by WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, UPMC and UPMC Health Plan, Candoris a CDI Company, APR Supply Company, Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster, G.F. Bowman, Fulton Bank, Penn State Health, Northwest Bank, Leitzel’s Jewelry, Kountry Kraft, Arthur Funk & Sons, Envision Financial Group and Jonestown Bank and Trust Company.
Photos and event highlights can be found on our Facebook page @AHAPennsylvania and more information is available at lebanonheartball.heart.org.
For more information about supporting the 2023 Lebanon Heart Ball campaign, contact Disha Modi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-730-1744.
Communications Director for the American Heart Association in Central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, York, State College, Altoona and Johnstown.