VIP Interview: American Heart Association Heart Ball

By MeLinda Schnyder

For Brian Heinrichs, chairing the American Heart Association Wichita Heart Ball means having an impact on whether people get the chance to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives.
    “To me, that is what the American Heart Association and the Heart Ball are all about,” said Heinrichs, chief financial officer at INTRUST Bank. “There are many worthwhile causes to support, but there aren’t as many that affect our entire population in some way. Every age and race is impacted by heart and stroke ailments and the AHA has been instrumental in helping promote better health and enhancements in medicine. We all know a person or a family member who has been impacted directly.”
    Nearly 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular diseases each day, according to the AHA. That makes cardiovascular diseases the country’s top killer while stroke is the fifth leading cause of death.         The AHA is credited with funding breakthroughs such as the first artificial heart valve, techniques and standards for CPR, pacemakers and cholesterol drugs. The non-profit said it currently has more than $2.6 million in active research in Kansas alone.
    Heart Balls are held across the country, including Wichita for the past 23 years. The event is one of the city’s premier fundraising events and attracts 500 attendees. Heinrichs and his wife, Joy, will host this year’s Wichita Heart Ball on Feb. 11 at the Wichita Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview. The black-tie optional evening begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by a silent auction, an elegant dinner, a live auction and an inspiring program starring a local survivor, who this year is an 11-year-old girl who received a new heart one year ago. The evening ends with the Pulse Party featuring music from Wichita’s eight-piece party band The Source.

VIP: To what do you attribute the longevity of the Heart Ball?
BH: The Wichita community has been so generous throughout the 23 years of the Wichita Heart Ball, and we’ve hosted thousands of attendees raising over $3 million dollars locally for the American Heart Association. I think what sets the Heart Ball apart from other galas in Wichita and has made it successful through the years are the people: the survivors, the donors, the volunteers and the overall community. The gala isn’t just about dressing up and having a night out, it’s about the mission and the people that the work of the American Heart Association touches, which is about everyone. It’s a great feeling being a part of something larger than yourself. I think the sponsors and donors who have supported through the years make it a special event. Most importantly though, I believe the survivors are why it’s so special, honoring local stories and remembering there’s more work to be done as people continue to lose the fight.

VIP: What does the American Heart Association do?
BH: The mission of the American Heart Association is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The AHA is instrumental in improving the lives and health of people of all generations. Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 5 leading causes of death in the world. The American Heart Association works tirelessly to help our doctors find cures and to educate people to live healthier lives.

VIP: How does the money raised at the Heart Ball help locally?
BH: The Wichita Heart Ball is the largest fundraising event locally for the American Heart Association. Last year, the event raised nearly $300,000 and those funds go to support research and education for people in the communities we serve. An example of the dollars at work are with the quality improvement program “Get with the Guidelines,” which ensures heart and stroke patients get the best and most consistent treatment available when they need it the most: from the time EMS arrives on scene to when an individual is admitted to the hospital. Another way the dollars are working include advocacy efforts focused on better health policies and legislation. A few have included work on clean indoor air and pursuing earlier detection of heart disease in newborns using pulse oximetry screenings. The American Heart Association is also working to train the next generation of lifesavers. Thirty-four states, including the District of Columbia, have passed legislation that all high school seniors will be trained in CPR upon graduation. We’re working to make sure Kansas is next.

VIP: Are tickets still available for this year’s Heart Ball?
BH: A limited number of single tickets are available for $250 each. There are table options available, too. Readers can contact Cassie Goyen, Heart Ball director, at 316-768-3833 or for more details. This year, we’re “Puttin’ on the Ritz” for all of the flappers and fellas attending Heart Ball with a nod to the Roaring ’20s.

VIP: What is the Sweethearts program that is part of the Heart Ball?
BH: The American Heart Association’s Sweethearts program provides an opportunity for young women who are sophomores in high school to experience volunteering while learning more about advocacy, fundraising and how to prevent and fight heart disease and stroke by living heart-healthy lifestyles. The program is designed to empower young leaders to make a positive change within their peer groups and community. Sweethearts are escorted by their fathers and introduced during the Wichita Heart Ball.

VIP: Besides attending, are there ways readers can support the Heart Ball or the AHA?
BH: Yes, there are always ways to get involved and support the mission of the American Heart Association. Please contact the local office at 768-3830 or go to to find out more. We are always looking for volunteers, supporters and advocates to advance the lifesaving work.