Erich Sanchack, Executive Vice President of Operations at Digital Realty, and his daughter, Dani Sanchack, are Austin transplants who are inspiring and advocating for heart and stroke patients across Central Texas. A former U.S. Marine Corps Officer, Erich, formerly served on the American Heart Association (AHA) Board of Directors for the Greater Washington Region, and after relocating to Austin last year, continues to serve the organization. In addition to joining the Central Texas Board, Erich currently serves as a co-chair for 2021 Austin Heart and Stroke Walk.
His passion and dedication to the American Heart Association began with a request from his colleagues and became solidified when his daughter suffered a sudden cardiac event of her own. When she was just 12 years old, during a gymnastics class, Dani began experiencing chest pain and what she thought at the time was acid reflux. After consulting with the family doctor and a local cardiologist, Dani was diagnosed with a right coronary artery birth defect. Soon after, the Sanchack family found themselves preparing for emergency open-heart surgery.
Today, Dani has successfully recovered and is looking forward to attending college this fall. We sat down with Erich to share why he decided to continue the fight for a world of longer, healthier lives right here in Austin.
American Heart Association (AHA): How long have you been involved with the American Heart Association?
ES: I’ve been directly involved with AHA events and board-level activities since 2010 and initially became involved because of my boss at the time. She called me into her office and asked me to lead a team on behalf of our company. It was a fun, meaningful way to work with my colleagues and make a difference.
However, it wouldn’t be until almost five years later that I would be personally impacted by a heart event and develop an even greater passion for the work and mission of the AHA.
AHA: We can assume you are speaking about Dani. Tell us what it was like to learn that your then 12-year-old daughter would need open-heart surgery.
ES: Dani was diagnosed with a heart defect that is usually found postmortem, and it was rare to find a surgeon who has performed the kind of surgery my daughter so desperately needed on live patients. After interviewing many doctors, we found one who was working on an experimental surgery at Johns Hopkins University and decided to do what we could to support his research.
AHA: Funding research is a cornerstone of the American Heart Association’s lifesaving mission — a pillar upon which the AHA was founded and a key to our future. The AHA financially supports scientists and researchers from diverse backgrounds with a long-term goal of funding, specifically with awardees who are members of underrepresented groups. Pediatric heart research is one area where we have some catching up to do. Why is funding research so important?
ES: It’s important to raise money and get grants to these doctors so that they can develop life-saving tools and techniques. They may save someone’s life in five years or ten years down the line. We want to pay it forward — we can make an impact in future generations of children. We can all give back by volunteering and participating in AHA events like CycleNation and the Heart and Stroke Walk.
AHA: What has been one of your most memorable moments at a Heart Walk event?
ES: My most memorable moment was standing on stage with Dani and sharing our family story. Many people talk about statistics, such as improving healthcare access and disease prevention, but when I looked out and saw 14,000 people standing in silence, listening – it touched me. We were making a real connection with the audience. Our story was making an impact in an incredible way.
AHA: How do you and your family stay heart-healthy? What are some of your go-to ways to get active?
ES: We watch what we eat, and we enjoy family walks together. My wife enjoys yoga and I love to bike and run, but it’s the small things too. We park in the farthest possible parking spot when going to the store, and we love to laugh and smile (which also has a positive impact on your heart).
Join Erich and Dani at the 2021 Austin Heart and Stroke Walk
Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, remains the No. 1 killer of Americans. The American Heart Association’s top priority is the health and well-being of individuals and their families today and in the future, in every community, from here to everywhere. No matter where you choose to walk, participating and donating to the Austin Heart and Stroke Walk, continues to support the lifesaving mission of the American Heart Association. To join our efforts, register for the 2021 Austin Heart and Stroke Walk at www.austinheartwalk.org and encourage your friends, family, or team to do the same.