It's only natural that J. Scott Wilfong, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank for the Greater Washington/Maryland area, would want to give back to the American Heart Association.

After all, heart disease runs in his family. His wife, Susan, suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes enlarged. Her brother died at the age of 13 and her father at the age of 61 from the same condition. Their daughter, Sarah, 29, has a defibrillator and his sister-in-law has had a heart transplant.


So he volunteers continuously to help raise awareness and funds for the American Heart Association locally throughout Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Wilfong takes the SunTrust brand, "Live Solid. Bank Solid." to heart.

He said to "live solid" includes helping create healthy communities.

"Healthy communities breed healthy banks," said Wilfong, a Canton resident. "The more we can do in the community, the more vibrant the community is and the more engaged a community becomes."

Through Wilfong's efforts, SunTrust was named the top fundraising company for the Greater Washington Region Heart Walk in 2007 and 2008.

In the D.C. area alone SunTrust has contributed over $500,000 through fundraising since 2006. Wilfong has also chaired the heart walk there for two years.

In Baltimore, Wilfong chaired the Baltimore Heart Ball held last February, raising $505,000, a $70,000 increase in net funds raised from the previous year.

"We believe that by the bank and our teammates becoming more involved in these things, it's set up to help everybody, not just the people we're raising the money for," said Wilfong.

The success of last year's Heart Ball during difficult economic times is a tribute to the work of volunteers like Wilfong, said Crystal Herring, senior development director at the Greater Baltimore Division of the American Heart Association.

"Scott has been a tremendous leader for us in the Greater Baltimore community," said Herring. "Our partnership with a volunteer like Scott is priceless."

Part of that volunteer work includes helping to increase involvement from the Baltimore corporate community.

"Volunteers like Scott are the influence that really truly get the attention of others throughout the community and it catches like wildfire," said Herring.

To build interest in heart disease and raise money for the American Heart Association among area corporations, he showed statistics to corporate leaders on just how prevalent heart disease is, the costs involved and how it can affect employees.

More than 80 million people have cardiovascular disease in the United States. Medical care and indirect costs of heart disease in the United States rose to $450 billion last year, and are projected to be more than $1 trillion by 2030, according to the American Heart Association.


"So we wanted to inform companies and advise them as to how many people in their own companies are affected," said Wilfong. "They realize it's a big problem. That we can reduce health care costs and help employees live healthier lifestyles."

SunTrust offers its employees 16 hours of volunteer work time with nonprofit organizations. The American Heart Association is one of those causes they can choose to volunteer for.

And it's an important one, says Wilfong.

"The dollars raised for the heart galas and the heart walks come back to the communities in the form of research grants," he said. "So I saw it as a way to be able to give back and to generate dollars for local institutions to further their work studying heart disease."

Within his own company he helped raise awareness by talking about how heart disease has impacted his life. He quickly found he wasn't alone.

In fact, it opened up conversation among other SunTrust employees about their own struggles with the disease.

"As a family we've been very informed about heart disease," he said. "And that led to teammates of mine at the bank telling me their own personal stories of heart disease. So people wanted to get involved."

His push currently is to build participation among SunTrust employees to take part in the annual Greater Baltimore Heart Walk, which takes place Oct. 22 at Rash Field.

For more information on the heart walk or to register to walk, visit greaterbaltimoreheartwalk.org or call 410-637-4524.