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Rita Sholton, of Anchorage, Former Northern Air Cargo, Honored in NY by National Marfan Foundation


PORT WASHINGTON, NY, May 7, 2012 – The National Marfan Foundation honored Rita Sholton, former owner and chairman of the board of Alaska’s Northern Air Cargo, with a 2012 Hero with a Heart Award at its Heartworks gala, held on April 26, 2012, at Cipriani 42nd Street. Sholton, who built Northern Air Cargo into the largest all-cargo airline in Alaska, has been a staunch supporter of the NMF since her granddaughter, Andrea Witte, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a potentially fatal condition, in 1998.

“As Rita watched Andrea blossom into a beautiful teenager, she has seen both sides of Marfan syndrome: the difficult medical challenges and the camaraderie and support provided by the NMF,” said Carolyn Levering, NMF President and CEO. “We are so appreciative of her generosity, which will enable us to continue to provide programs that enhance the life of Andrea and other children with Marfan syndrome and related disorders.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Heartworks Honorary Chair, opened the evening, and WNBC-TV’s Jane Hanson and Janice Huff served as masters of ceremonies. NMF Board member Karen Murray, President of VF Sportswear, was the corporate host and Susan Falco was dinner chair.

Dinner chairs were Benjamin Carpenter; Hal C. Dietz, III, MD, Johns Hopkins Hospital; Alix McLean Jennings & Ezra Jennings; Jeffrey C. LeSage, KPMG; Tony Award-winning actor and choreographer Ann Reinking; and Mary and John Witte.

The NMF also honored Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, with a 2012 Hero with a Heart Award at the gala.

In addition to the award presentations, the evening’s highlights included:

•             An exciting live auction for two luxurious vacation package, one to Bermuda and the other to the Napa Valley, which generated cheers for the lucky (and generous) winners.

•             Entertainment by Roger Rees, a Tony Award-winner for his role in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, which received a rousing ovation by attendees.

•             A moving presentation by NMF member Suzanne Kouri, former president of the Massachusetts Chapter, who described the challenges and accomplishments of her son, Yamilito, who has Marfan syndrome, bringing the audience to tears and then shouts of jubilation as the learned of Yamilito’s successes.

Through sponsorships and ticket sales, a journal, the live auction and a silent auction, and a special on-site Fund-a-Need appeal, the Foundation raised nearly $900,000.

“Heartworks is so important to the NMF because it secures the funding we require to continue our standard programs of education, support and research,” said Carolyn Levering, NMF President and CEO. “I am heartened every year by the support of the business community and am thrilled that so many members of our Marfan community can attend, as well, to feel this love and support.”

Heartworks has raised nearly $9 million for the NMF to date. The proceeds from the event are earmarked for Marfan syndrome research, support for individuals and families affected by the disorder, and public awareness and education.         

Marfan Syndrome and the National Marfan Foundation

Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, blood vessels, eyes, bones, joints and lungs. It is often, but not always, characterized by a tall stature and disproportionately long legs and arms. Other skeletal manifestations are curvature of the spine, a protruding or indented chest and loose joints. The most serious problem associated with the Marfan syndrome is its effect on the aorta, the main artery carrying blood away from the heart. In affected people, the aorta is prone to progressive enlargement, which can lead to tears in the aortic wall that require surgery. If aortic enlargement and tears are left undetected, the aorta may rupture, leading to sudden death.

The life expectancy for people with Marfan syndrome who are diagnosed and treated is now in the 70s due to advances in cardiovascular surgery, increased options in medical therapy and better diagnosis.

Currently, there is a critical clinical trial under way on a medication, losartan, which has been shown to prevent and even reverse aortic enlargement in mice with Marfan syndrome. The study, which is being funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is examining losartan vs. atenolol, a beta blocker, in people with Marfan syndrome age six months to 25 years. It is being conducted at study sites throughout the U.S., in Canada and overseas.

Approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. have Marfan syndrome or a related connective tissue disorder. In most cases, the condition is inherited; one-quarter of people with Marfan syndrome are the first in their family to be affected.

The National Marfan Foundation is a non-profit voluntary health organization dedicated to saving lives and improving the quality of life of individuals and families affected by the Marfan syndrome and related disorders by:

•             Educating affected individuals, family members and the health care community about Marfan syndrome.

•             Advocating for and funding clinical and molecular research into the early detection and treatment of Marfan syndrome.

•             Providing a network of local and special-interest support groups to help affected people and their families share experiences.

For more information on the Marfan syndrome, call 800-8-MARFAN, ext. 26, or visit www.marfan.org.

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