South Asians Suffer High Rate of Heart Disease

South Asians Suffer High Rate of Heart Disease

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Murali and Priya Dharan thought they were doing  everything right to keep healthy, eating vegetarian meals and getting regular checkups. That's why the Los Altos couple were "jolted" when doctors told Murali that the chest pain he had been experiencing for almost a week was because of a heart attack.

At the time of the heart attack in July 2008, “my right coronary artery was blocked 100 percent,” Dharan, now 49, said. Doctors put a stent in to keep the artery open and improve the blood flow to his heart.

A Silicon Valley executive, Dharan made some significant lifestyle changes based on research he did. He consulted nutritionists and dietitians. Within a couple of months, he felt he had recovered.

“I felt energized to make those changes,” which included a “serious exercise regimen,” said Dharan, the father of two children, age 10 and 9.

Cardiovascular disease is the No.1 cause of death in the United States, and according Ashish Mathur, executive director of the Mountain View, Calif.-based South Asian Heart Center (SAHC), South Asians are four times as likely to get heart disease than the general population.

Not only that, while the average age for the first heart attack in the general U.S. population is 65 for men and 70 for women, half of heart attacks in South Asians occur before age 50, he said.

This means, “breadwinners are affected,” Mathur said, noting that there is not enough data out to know why the disease is so prevalent among South Asians.

Even more alarming is the fact that South Asians are three times as likely to suffer a second heart attack and twice as likely to die from one.

Launched in 2006 to combat the growing epidemic, SAHC, which is housed in the El Camino Hospital, does widespread outreach in the community to promote awareness of the disease. The center also conducts screenings and individualized lifestyle counseling.

Since its inception, around 3,400 people have gone to the center, the bulk of them for preventative care, said Priya, who currently volunteers there.

“We don’t want others to go through what we did,” she said.

Come March 12, SAHC will hold its third fund-raising gala at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose. It will be a celebration of SAHC over the years.

The entertainment segment will feature a fashion show, casino and a banquet comprised of healthy cuisine.

Participants will also be able to hear first hand the experiences of survivors, and mingle with doctors and SAHC volunteers.

The “Scarlet Night” gala begins at 6 p.m., with tickets priced at $125 to $200, and tables for 10 starting at $1,100.

E-mail contact for the event is