Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia Business School professor and researcher, will be the keynote speaker at the “Scarlet Night” fundraiser for the South Asian Heart Center. She will talk about her research on the subject of how people make choices. Bay Area NBC TV news anchor Raj Mathai will emcee the event, that features a heart-healthy banquet, live auction and entertainment by the Mona Khan Company. New this year is an exclusive “Scarlet Choice Reception” where Premier and VIP table holders can meet Dr. Iyengar, Raj Mathai, and other distinguished guests.
“Combating heart disease in our South Asian community is all about ‘choice’,” explains Poornima Kumar, now in her second year as Scarlet Night co-chair. “That’s why Iyengar’s research should resonate with all of us. Even though our genetic predisposition and lifestyles make us four times more susceptible to heart disease and diabetes, we have the choice to adopt healthy habits that level the genetic playing field.”
Iyengar agrees. “People often see their lives in terms of fate, but each of us has the power to choose what we’ll do with what we’ve been given. Making a few careful choices each day can make the difference in your life,” she says.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Iyengar’s family emigrated to the U.S. when she was a young girl. At a very young age she was diagnosed with a rare inherited form of retinal degeneration and had lost her sight entirely by the 11th grade. When she was just 13, her father died of a heart attack, an all-too frequent occurrence in the South Asian community.
In her book, The Art of Choosing, she says these apparently random misfortunes were what led to her fascination with how people make choices. She writes: “For a blind Sikh girl otherwise subject to so many restrictions, [choice] was a very powerful idea. I could have thought of my life as already written, which would have been more in line with my parents’ views. Or I could have thought of it as a series of accidents beyond my control, which was one way to account for my blindness and my father’s death. However, it seemed much more promising to think of it in terms of choice, in terms of what was still possible and what I could make happen.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Iyengar earned a Ph.D. in social psychology at Stanford University, writing a powerful, award-winning dissertation, “Choice and its Discontents,” that asks whether there are circumstances in which people are better off when they have their choice limited or entirely removed.
“Iyengar’s achievements were facilitated by her own choice to see life’s potential rather than its inherent limitations,” says Nimish Mehta, gala co-chairman and CEO/Co-Founder of Lumen Data. “Her life can inspire all South Asians-we can either sit back and wait for our genes and unhealthy lifestyles take over, or choose to take charge and prevent heart disease and diabetes.”
The annual Scarlet Night gala raises much-needed funds for the South Asian Heart Center’s annual operations. Over 60 percent of the funding is spent on prevention with the remainder going to outreach, research and education. Less than 10 percent is spent for general and administrative operations 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.
Saturday, March 9, 6 to 11:30 p.m. Mission Ballroom, Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara. (650) 940-7242. www.southasianheartcenter.org/scarlet. firstname.lastname@example.org.