Gootter Foundation Raises $4 Million for Cardiac Arrest Research

By Tara Kirkpatrick –

Frank and Jana Westerbeke to be Honored at Gala

A recent phone call to Andrew and Claudine Messing reaffirmed their decade-plus mission with the Steven M. Gootter Foundation.

A 45-year-old U.S. Army officer told them he suffered sudden cardiac arrest while driving in Oro Valley and collapsed in his car. He is alive today because the first police officer on the scene saved him using the automated external defibrillator in his patrol car.

That very AED was donated by the Gootter Foundation.

“This call just gave us chills,” said Andrew, president of the foundation board and brother-in-law of its namesake. “An AED is proven to save lives. Until there is a cure for sudden cardiac arrest, this is one of the best things we can possibly do.”

Sudden cardiac arrest describes when the heart abruptly stops beating. Caused by an electrical problem in the heart, the victim stops breathing and loses consciousness. Blood flow to the organs halts. If not treated immediately, it leads to sudden cardiac death. An AED is the most powerful tool to restore normal heart rhythm – but it must be used within 10 minutes of the attack.

Claudine’s older brother, Steven, was on a morning jog in 2005 when it happened to him, alone with no AED around. A successful entrepreneur, gifted tennis player and father of two, Gootter didn’t smoke, was physically fit and had no other warning signs that his life would end at age 42. 

“He was such an incredible human being,” said Claudine, VP of the foundation board. “His death just left a huge hole in all of our hearts. We literally want to save others from the tragedy that we experienced.”

Andrew and Claudine, along with family and friends, launched the Steven M. Gootter Foundation shortly after Steven’s death in order to funnel their immense grief into a better understanding of this unannounced killer and find a cure. To this day, it continues to operate only with volunteers.

They have since raised $4 million, which has enabled a $2 million Steven M. Gootter endowed chair for the prevention of sudden cardiac death at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center. The foundation also provided $360,000 in funding to Sarver for a CPR Research Laboratory, where continuous chest compression CPR was developed, Claudine said. That lab is also studying other methods to improve survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

Add to those contributions a landmark 300 AEDs that have been donated to nonprofit agencies and police – often the first to arrive at an emergency call – throughout Southern Arizona since 2005 and $500,000 in investigator awards to fund cardiac research at the UA and Stanford University.

The Messings are especially pleased that those initial awards have garnered more than $7 million in additional funding from other sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. “The return on investment is really important to us,” said Andrew. “We look at ourselves as a little venture-capital arm, helping these young researchers prove a hypothesis they have. If there is merit, they can apply for even larger funds.”

The foundation’s vision continues to be three-fold – getting AEDs into as many locations as possible, funding more promising research and promoting education about sudden cardiac arrest. For example, many people are scared to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which has been proven to be unnecessary, Andrew said. Continuous chest compression is just as effective in trying to save a victim. Others might be reluctant to use an AED, for fear of “doing it wrong,” he said.

“These are very smart machines,” said Andrew. “They won’t register a shock until they receive the proper reading they need. We need to take that fear away from people.” 

The annual Gootter Grand Slam Gala in March is yet another chance to bring the message of sudden cardiac arrest to the community. The Army officer who reached out to the Messings will speak at the event, as well as those who saved him.

“As my mom says, ‘If you save one life, you save the world,’” said Claudine.

2019 Gala to Honor Frank 

and Jana Westerbeke

At its 2019 Grand Slam Gala on March 2, the Steven M. Gootter Foundation will recognize the dynamic couple behind one of Tucson’s award-winning salon chains for their outstanding philanthropic work.

For Frank and Jana Westerbeke, it’s a way of life they chose from the very start of their marriage.

“If you give first and take care of others in need, you will always have more than enough,” said Jana, who runs Gadabout SalonSpas and VerVe Salons with husband, Frank. “We made that part of our practice in life. Every month when we were newly married, we would respond to every request, every basket, every donation. Then, we took care of the other incidentals. We wanted to pay it forward.”

It’s also the philosophy by which the Westerbekes run their salon empire, which includes five Gadabout locations, a salon at the Arizona Cancer Center’s Peter and Paula Fasseas Cancer Clinic and two VerVe concepts. Gadabout also opened a resource center last year devoted to educating the team from within. “We don’t hire people, we grow people,” said Frank. “When you can help people be their best and then watch it happen, it’s what inspires me most.”

Employee retention is high at Gadabout – with 94 employees who have been with the company for more than 10 years and 19 for more than 20, according to its website. Gadabout’s very first employee in the 1970s – when Jana’s mother Pamela McNair-Wingate opened the first salon – continues to work there.

“They have done so much in the community, we really thought they deserved this award,” said Claudine. “They really exemplify the word ‘philanthropy.’”

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