Heart disease showed no mercy when heart attacks hit brothers Harry and Chuck Sublett on the same day.

Chuck survived, but Harry didn’t.

“That morning when I got up I would’ve said there was no heart disease in my family, and three hours later, I would say it’s rampant,” said their brother and longtime American Heart Association supporter Jim Sublett.

Jim knew he should get his own heart checked out. Soon there was more bad news. An artery was 100 percent blocked.

“It was a fluke that I was alive,” Sublett said. Over the years, Jim’s body had slowly grown collateral circulation to compensate for the reduced blood flow. It did him a big favor by diverting the flow around the blockage and reducing his risk of heart attack. He started taking statins to control his cholesterol.

A few years later, in 2010, heart disease caught up with Jim’s wife Donna. She was sitting at her computer when she felt intense pressure — like a mammogram machine was coming down on her chest. An artery was 65 percent blocked. After a stent, her doctor wished her well and said he didn’t think he’d see her for a decade. He was off by about six years. In May 2014, Donna had more chest pains, another blocked vessel, another stent.

The Subletts had been AHA supporters since 1998, but they wanted to do even more after Donna’s heart attack. They’ve made a major donation to AHA to fund five grants that focus on cardiovascular advances for women. Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. They hope their support will help spare families the heartache their family has suffered.

“It was such a shock to us,” said Donna. They’d always worried about Jim’s heart, not hers, and she hadn’t given much thought to her mom and dad’s histories of heart disease and stroke. “I didn’t have high blood pressure. I didn’t have high cholesterol. I wouldn’t have been the one that we picked.”

Research, they know, is the key to the future.

The Subletts attend Scientific Sessions — where researchers from around the world learn about the latest in cardiovascular research — as honored guests. “It’s very energizing — what they’re doing and how they’re going to change our lives,” Jim said.

Each of the five grants the Subletts are funding is focused on heart disease and women because they feel research involving women has been overlooked. The studies will:

  • Examine how to counteract some of the negative side effects of statins with a natural supplement derived from dark chocolate;
  • Identify a new class of drugs to mimic statins using a different genetic target;
  • Look for a new drug to treat plaque build-up in the arteries by examining how low oxygen levels at the buildup can trigger the production of more cholesterol;
  • Determine if a specific molecule within a cell could be a new therapeutic target to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol;
  • Uncover why women are disproportionately affected by congestive heart failure.

The Subletts call it a “no brainer” to support early researchers. In talking to researchers, they hear the same thing time and again, Donna said. “’My first grant came from the AHA. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.’”