Despite frigid temperatures, more than 350 guests came out on Saturday, Jan. 27 to support The Gunnar Frederick Woelfel Fund for Pediatric Heart Research at the inaugural Heart Ball, hosted by Sarah and Fritz Woelfel at Apawamis Club. The black-tie gala included dinner, dancing, and a paddle raise led by Auctioneer Sophie Colgan. The evening also included remarks by the Woelfels as well as renowned doctors on Columbia University’s medical team.
The Woelfels created the fund in memory of their late son, Gunnar Frederick Woelfel, who was diagnosed with a complex congenital heart disease during Sarah’s pregnancy. Gunnar underwent open-heart surgery at the age of three months but died from complications seven weeks after the surgery, on Jan. 30, 2021.
Addressing the crowd, the Woelfels said the fund has been a silver lining for them. “We had a lot of energy we were planning to devote to Gunnar and wanted to channel that energy into improving the outcomes for children with congenital heart defects,” said Sarah.
Through their efforts, the Woelfels hope to raise awareness of a disease that is the most common type of birth defect in the United States. Congenital heart defects affect nearly 1 percent of child births each year, approximately 40,000. The fund supports Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in developing innovative ways to treat children with CHD. “Our research aims to produce valves that can grow with the child, thereby reducing the number of surgeries a child needs,” said Columbia cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Emile Bacha at the event.
The Foundation plans to make an initial grant of more than $350,000 to Columbia this year.