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Sheena Iyengar to Keynote ‘Scarlet Night’ Gala Mar. 9

Columbia Prof. Sheena Iyengar.
  • MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., United States

    The annual “Scarlet Night” fundraiser for The South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital, now in its fifth year, will be held March 9 at the Santa Clara Convention Center to raise both money and awareness for the Center’s strategic initiatives, including community advocacy, primary prevention, physician education, and clinical research aimed at stemming the twin epidemics of heart disease and diabetes among South Asians. 

    Emmy-winning Bay Area NBC TV news anchor Raj Mathai will emcee the event, which features a keynote address by Columbia Business School Prof. Sheena Iyengar, renowned for her research on choice.

    Iyengar lost her sight early in life due to a rare inherited disease, and lost her father to heart disease when she was just 13. Rather than seeing these events as a random series of accidents destined to define her, she became fascinated by the subject of how humans make choices, and went on to write an award-winning dissertation on the subject for her Ph.D. in social psychology at Stanford University.

    “Dr. Iyengar’s research into how people respond to and make choices is one that should resonate with every South Asian,” said gala co-chair Poornima Kumar, who will once again be the gala co-chair. “Many of us are becoming aware that our genes make us four times more susceptible to heart disease. Fortunately, we can make healthy lifestyle choices that level the playing field. And, we can choose to support the South Asian Heart Center, which has led the effort to better understand how lifestyle modifications can reduce our risks for coronary artery disease and diabetes.” 

    “Choice” also resonates with gala co-chairman Nimish Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Lumen Data. After both his father and a first cousin were felled at an early age by heart disease, he chose to get tested for heart disease risk factors.

    “People usually don’t want to ask, ‘How bad are my numbers?’” he said. “But suddenly I needed to know.”

    The news wasn’t good. At age 38 he began taking “so many medications it was ridiculous,” Mehta said. “After a few years, I knew I needed to try something different.”

    (See separate interview with Nimish Mehta.)

    The Indian American executive sought out another cardiologist, who “slowly but surely got me almost completely off the meds through exercise, diet, and de-stressing. My numbers now are great, and it’s all about making the right choices.”

    When the South Asian Heart Center was launched in 2006, he was drawn to its lifestyle protocols, coaching and prevention-focused approach, and became one its first and most ardent supporters. 

    “What the Center does so well is to help people create commonsense strategies for a heart-healthy life,” he stated.

    Funds raised for the South Asian Heart Center are spent on prevention (63.3%), outreach (11.2%), research (8.3%) and education (7.3%). Less than 10% of the Center’s total revenue is spent on G&A and fundraising. The Center has screened over 4,000 participants, case-managed 1,600 high risk individuals for a year or more, created a Bay Area network of over 300 referring physicians, and trained 800 physicians on practice methods for early diagnosis, comprehensive evaluation and lifestyle changes.

    The Center is also observing risk reduction with improvements in participant triglycerides and lipid levels in case-managed, lifestyle-counseled participants. Together with its research partners Stanford University and UCSF, it has published posters and manuscripts on several topics related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes in South Asians.

    The 2013 gala is expected to top last year’s record attendance of nearly 800, according to a press release. In addition to the keynote remarks, it features entertainment by the Mona Khan Dance Company. This year’s color theme for apparel is light green.

    The March 9 gala will be held from 6 to 11:30 p.m. at the Santa Clara Convention Center at 5001 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara, Calif. Individual tickets to the event are $150/$250/$500, and tables of ten are $1500/$2500/ $5000. Business sponsorships are also available. For more information or to register, call (650) 940-7242, visit or e-mail 



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