Debbie Brocato-Casias was stunned by the statistic she heard at a Go Red For Women luncheon two years ago: Cardiovascular disease kills one in three women.
“I looked around the table and did ‘one, two, skip … one, two, skip’ and realized how many people sitting there could be affected,” she said. “Heart disease affects all different ages. It’s scary.”
Devastating illness had already made a major impact on Debbie and her loved ones’ lives. Debbie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight years ago, at 32, a month after her son was born. She has very limited use of her right hand and leg.
Many years ago, Debbie’s uncle Bob survived a massive heart attack. The image of her aunt in the back of the ambulance watching the paramedics revive her husband still haunts her. “I can only imagine what was running through her head. That’s something that will always stick with me.”
After another heart attack two years later, her uncle survived bypass surgery. Debbie took away the message that heart disease and heart attacks don’t have to be fatal. “I’m amazed that my uncle survived and is alive and well today. There is help and hope, thanks in large part to the work of the American Heart Association.”
Debbie’s dad, Skip Viragh, was a successful businessman who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2002 and died of it in 2003. Her dad led his daughters and his workers by example, generously supporting many causes. “We didn’t always have the greatest relationship but after I got sick with MS we got a lot closer.”
The stress and sadness of losing her dad worsened Debbie’s MS symptoms but fueled her desire to help others.
Skip left his three daughters a trust, with the stipulation that a certain amount be donated each year to help others. Debbie has made several very generous donations to the American Heart Association, supporting Go Red For Women, Heart Ball and Start! Heart Walk. “This is possible because of my dad’s wonderful gift. I can’t tell you how gratifying and amazing it is to help, whether it’s one person, one thousand or a million.”
Debbie, who lives in Arlington, Texas, is married to Rene Casias. She has two children, Angela, 16, and Dillon, 8. Debbie loves supporting social events for the American Heart Association, although she describes herself as standoffish, shy. When people thank her for her generosity, she’s not sure what to say. “It’s not about putting your name out there, it’s just about helping.”
If she’s had a tough day, Debbie said she fights the stress by giving back. “I’ll go in my office, close the door and see what I can do in the world.”
Debbie wants to spur potential donors to take action, despite the economy. “I want to get things started and encourage people to dip into their pockets,” she said. “If I can sell them on giving, I’ve done my job.”