Lindsey is a vibrant and lively little girl who enjoys dancing and running around in her "rockin' kicks" singing her favorite tunes. You'd probably never guess that she was born with two congenital heart defects, with less than a 10 percent survival rate at birth, and that she survived two open-heart surgeries by the time she was 6 months old.
On Aug. 22, Lindsey will join a crowd of generous Milwaukeeans who will help her celebrate her 6th birthday at one of the city's most vibrant social events of the summer, Red Hot Summer Night.
For $75, guests at Red Hot Summer Night will enjoy wine and appetizers from some of Milwaukee's best restaurants, live music from Vivo, live painting from local artist Jeff Darrow and a silent auction featuring high-end accessories for men and women.
Best of all, thanks to the generous support of the participating restaurants, $45 from each ticket will be donated back to AHA to directly support their mission to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
The event, which will be held at the Pritzlaff Building, 325 N. Plankinton Ave., aims to capture the attention of individuals who may not already have a relationship with the American Heart Association – working professionals like Lindsey's dad, who wasn't familiar with the work of the AHA until he needed them most.
"I didn't realize years ago, before Lindsey was even born," he recalls, "that there were researchers and donors that were generously supporting the American Heart Association that would eventually provide the life-saving treatments that would one day save my daughter's life."
One of the key pieces of life-changing research that the American Heart Association has spear-headed has been in the area of diet, one of the factors most easily controlled by individuals who have a family history of cardiovascular disease.
"We have lost many family and friends due to heart attacks," says Citlali Mendieta-Ramos, owner and catering director at Antigua restaurant. "The most recent life claimed by heart disease belonged to our friend Bill Quarels, who passed away this past July. We know that one of the ways that people can recover from and prevent a heart attack is by following a healthy diet."
That's why Mendieta-Ramos' husband, Chef Nicholas Ramos, plans to use the Red Hot Summer Night event to showcase examples of Latin American food that are delicious but also healthy, like the restaurant's black bean soup with pico de gallo, roasted jalapeno peppers and queso fresco.
Other restaurants who will be serving dishes at the event include Balzac, Espana, La Merenda, Marcus Restaurants, Odd Duck, Rumpus Room and Screaming Tuna.
"Heart disease is the leading cause for death in both women and men," says Chef Jason Gorman, an OnMilwaukee.com blogger, who will represent La Merenda at the event. "Chef/Owner Peter Sandroni lost his father and grandfather to heart disease. We believe this is a very important cause and we hope to raise awareness among those who attend."
In an effort to focus on the community that lends its support to the initiatives of the AHA, La Merenda will feature local cheeses from The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, bread from Rocket Baby Bakery, house-made jams and a dish that is featured on La Merenda's current menu.
Matt Kerley, executive chef at the Rumpus Room has been fortunate not to have any intimate connections with heart disease, but he understands how vital it is for society to embrace a diet of moderation and healthy lifestyle habits. He'll be representing the Bartolotta restaurants with a small plate featuring corned beef tongue sliders on dark rye crostini with caraway sauerkraut.
"It's the understanding of the impact AHA has in our day-to-day lives that we want to emphasize," says Michelle Hunkins, corporate events director at the American Heart Association. "We never know when we ourselves, or someone we care about, might benefit from the life-saving research and education that AHA provides."
Melissa Buchholz, co-owner of Odd Duck in Walker's Point, says they made the decision to support the event not only because it's a great cause, but because it gives them an opportunity to focus on showing that heart-healthy food can still be interesting and delicious.
"I don't know what the chefs have up their sleeves quite yet," she says, "but I know that for us, one of the dishes will feature veal heart as the protein – heart is a very lean meat, thus making it heart healthy – and it is also delicious!"
Heart-healthy, delicious food is exactly the sort of thing that keeps kids like Lindsey filled with the energy they need for plenty of running and dancing. And for that, her parents are grateful.
In between dance steps, when Lindsey pauses to catch her breath, her parents breathe a sigh of relief and appreciation that their child can embrace her dreams while inspiring others to do the same.
After all, it's only through the amazing care and support of physicians and the American Heart Association that she is a double-open heart survivor. And Lindsey, at just 6 years old, remains a living example of what the American Heart Association and caring supporters can accomplish together.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.