Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. Today I’m thrilled to be talking to Dr. Sonal Bhatia, a changemaker from New York City. Sonal is a board member of the New York chapter of the American Heart Association. Let’s see how she’s working towards UN SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being!
Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Sonal! What challenge are you addressing through your work with the American Heart Association?
Sonal: Thank you so much for having me, Spiffy! The American Heart Association mission is to advance education and access for all to ensure everyone lives a healthy life. Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer, while stroke is in second place? We are striving to change this by providing the resources for education, research, and knowledge to have a global impact in all. The goal is simple yet lofty—to have all live a healthy lifestyle for good heart health, which includes education of the need for healthy eating, exercise, finding solutions to limit tobacco at congress level, education on the value of good sleep, healthy living, checking your blood work, and knowing the disastrous impact when any of these activities are imbalanced.
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Sonal: As a physician, a mother of two kids, and a healthcare provider, I recognize that only collectively can we reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke; by simple steps to education collectively, bringing healthier foods to schools, finding access for all. Having lost extended family members to heart disease, and witnessing three close friends in their 40s develop strokes and heart attacks, makes me realize the work is yet to be done. Changing the lifestyles of people is my mission because I know we are making wrong choices, but also that healthy living is in our palms—we simply need to own it collectively and teach, encourage, and motivate others to keep moving, make healthy choices, reduce stress levels, and sleep well daily.
Spiffy: What, according to you, is the impact of your work through AHA, Sonal?
Sonal: Our ability to raise funds through corporations and individual donors, coupled with our passion to educate everyone (from people in corporations and kids in high school), gives us the ability to raise awareness of the impact of heart health and its challenges. Small steps will and can make a difference. We mentor high school students to advance their careers in STEM programs to bring up the next generation of students who will advance our mission. We also seek changes at congress level to limit access to tobacco and allow for healthy lifestyles and choices. All people will equitably be impacted by our mission at various levels.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your target community.
Sonal: We recently managed to have a virtual STEM Mentoring program for high school students. This was sponsored by many corporations to allow for us to stage a mentoring program, bringing in different STEM mentors who shared their journey and how it has led them to their job and passion today. We elevated the role of STEM with the future generation, who ultimately will be the ones we pass the baton to, in order to keep driving our mission.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Sonal: I lost my best friend from medical school early on in my medical career. It was very difficult to realize that losing a young person because we don’t take care of our health from early ages could have been potentially prevented. I decided that instead of working in a clinic, I wanted to make a bigger and faster impact at a population level, which led me to work in the pharmaceutical industry. Being there allowed me to be part of a team that was driving innovation for the future of healthcare and for patients. Then, when I started working with the AHA, I saw the perfect sweet spot to advance our mission, at a population level. It takes grit to make things happen but every person deserves to live a healthy life.
Spiffy: They sure do! Thanks for speaking with me today, Sonal—it’s been an honor!
Dr. Sonal Bhatia is a physician and the Chief Medical Officer for Rare Disease at Pfizer, where she strives to elevate the patient voice to bring breakthrough medicines for patients with rare diseases. She is actively involved in non-profit organizations focused on reducing healthcare disparities, specifically, access to cardiovascular health, healthy living, and being a catalyst for change in women’s health. Sonal was bestowed the 2018 Rising Star Award by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. (Nominated by Archana Shah at ImpactHub NY. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 11, 2023.)© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.