Betsy and Kamli Abdulghani; Founders of Rock The Red
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
Betsy's job: International flight attendant for American Airlines
Kamli's job: Student at the University of Alabama
Family: Betsy's husband (Kamli's dad) Joe, and Betsy's kids (Kamli's siblings) Justin and Sydney
Betsy Abdulghani is 45 and lives in Saint Augustine, Florida, with Joe, her husband of 23 years, and their children, Justin, Kamli and Sydney. Betsy is an international flight attendant for American Airlines based in Miami, Florida.
Living with heart disease, Betsy’s life changed on May 7, 2007, when she barely survived two heart attacks. When Betsy went to the emergency room with tightness in her chest, she was told to stand by because — as a fit 42-year-old woman — she was considered low-risk. Turns out, she had a total blockage of her left anterior distending artery and now has two stents in that artery and damage to the lower part of her heart.
On the first anniversary of the heart attacks, to honor her mother's survival, her daughter Kamli held a benefit to raise awareness of women's heart disease and it became the first "Rock the Red" event. Kamli, a model since the age of 13, used her experience to host a luncheon and fashion show to organize the benefit. She chose to benefit WomenHeart since they are the national coalition for women with heart disease, and she thought it was the perfect way to raise not only awareness in her community but to also honor her mother. The luncheon hosted 100 men and women of all ages. A cardiologist spoke on the risk factors of heart disease, the differences in the symptoms between men and women and how to live a more heart-healthy life.
A homegrown effort, Rock the Red relied on support from their immediate family as well as generous sponsorships of door prizes from local businesses. A rewarding experience, Kamli was able to raise $2,800.00 that day! Realizing the success and momentum behind their cause, Rock the Red took on a life of its own, and what was originally planned as a one-time event to honor Betsy became a grassroots effort to raise awareness of heart disease as the number-one killer of women.
In October 2008, Betsy was chosen as one of 60 women to attend the WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The Symposium gave Betsy an opportunity to learn about her illness, how to live with it and let her know that she was not alone. Betsy became a WomenHeart Champion whose role is to enter the community and educate, support and raise awareness by telling her heart story. In December, Betsy was asked to speak at the Sister to Sister executive luncheon. Returning to work, Betsy wore her red dress pin on her uniform and by sharing her story with her co-workers, was able to promote awareness within her company. In January of 2009, Betsy felt the tightness in her chest return, however this time recognizing the symptoms she went immediately to her doctor. Additional intervention was required, but the recovery time was so much less because there was not additional heart damage. Betsy was able to man a booth with the help of daughters Kamli and Sydney at a Sister to Sister Heart Health Fair just one week later. In May 2009, Betsy and Kamli were chosen by the First Coast Chapter of the American Heart Association as faces of the Go Red for Women Campaign.
The Rock the Red initiative focuses on the lack of awareness in women, especially for women between the ages of 18 and 39. Heart disease is the number-one killer of women, and this age group has a climbing rate of heart disease with no awareness of their risks, symptoms or prevention. In hopes to educate women at a younger age about heart disease and how to prevent it, their efforts aim to diffuse false assumptions that heart disease is only contracted by those who are inactive, obese, smoke, have diabetes, are over 50 or suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Over the next decade, Betsy and Kamli's goal is to raise the level of awareness to that of breast cancer. By 2020, Rock the Red hopes that we will see a decline in the women who have been diagnosed with heart disease because they had the knowledge to prevent it early on.
Currently, Betsy is participating in a heart-health fair that American Airlines Miami Flight Service is hosting in February, as well as working a booth at the Women's Heart Connection Fair in Jacksonville, Florida. Kamli, a student at the University of Alabama, has contacted her college director about possible funding for an awareness campaign at school, and she has shared the Rock the Red mission with her sisters in Alpha Gamma Delta.
Betsy's husband Joe provides much love and support for their efforts, as do her son Justin and daughter Sydney, who continue to fundraise for organizations that support women living with heart disease and research ways to prevent and cure heart disease.