Image: Ronny Turiaf
Jennifer Pottheiser  /  NBAE/Getty Images
Ronny Turiaf and his Heart to Heart Foundation hosts a heart health awareness and screening event for students at a Bronx, N.Y., high school in March.
NBC News
updated 5/12/2011 4:53:27 PM ET 2011-05-12T20:53:27

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with NBA player Ronny Turiaf, a center with the New York Knicks. Turiaf is the founder of the Ronny Turiaf Heart to Heart Foundation.  He was inspired to start the foundation after he was diagnosed with an enlarged aortic root in his heart in 2005.  After a successful surgery, Turiaf returned to the basketball court, and has used his celebrity to promote his cause.

Turiaf's foundation raises money to provide medical services like heart surgeries and defibrillators to children in need. The foundation recently set up free heart screenings and ran a basketball clinic for high school students in the Bronx.  For any information on the Ronny Turiaf Heart to Heart Foundation, you can visit RonnyTuriaf21.org.

Interviewed by Ezra Dreiblatt                                                 

Q:  What inspired you to create the heart to heart foundation?

Turiaf:  It is a desire that started with my mom.  My mom has always been a woman that gave back to others. and I think I picked up on that trait.  I made a promise to myself that once I became emotionally and financially able [to] provide for others, I would definitely make sure I did it.  It was a long process. It took me going to the Golden State Warriors, signing as a free agent, and then having people from this organization believing in what I was doing and buying in to my vision to help people.  Unfortunately, it took an unfortunate event to guide me in the direction I am in today.

Q:  You found out shortly after being drafted to the NBA, that you yourself had a heart problem, on top of that, you did not have health insurance.  Did that drive you to create this foundation to help other people in your situation?

Turiaf:  Not only that.  I want to thank the Los Angeles Lakers organization and especially Dr. Buss (Lakers owner) for paying for my heart surgery.  If the Los Angeles Lakers and Dr. Buss weren’t there for me, I wouldn’t be here today talking to you about my heart surgery and how it went great.  I could have been prevented from playing basketball, and would not have had the tools necessary to start the foundation.  I just want to make clear that I am thankful to the Lakers and to Dr. Buss. 

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After that, it definitely drove me to have a vision to give back to others who have had heart surgeries.  More specifically, it took me reading about local high school kids that passed away from heart ailments all across the world, and I realized I needed to do something.  It led me to try to donate defibrillators, and found a program to teach people how to use defibrillators. 

So whenever there is an incident, we can have defibrillators on site to help keep the heart beat going before the EMT and the ambulance come.  It was all those incidents that drove me to the direction I am in right now.

Q:  You recently ran a heart screening program in the Bronx for high school kids, what did you do with them, and what were you hoping to accomplish?

Turiaf:  What we are trying to accomplish is to provide heart screenings to high school kids that may not have ever had the chance to afford heart screenings.  By doing that, you definitely give yourself a chance to not have any unfortunate surprises.  Whenever we have to follow up, we have one of the best doctors, Dr. Martin Goldman, to follow up with.  He has the people around him that will do the follow up with the family, and deal with a situation that could have been dramatic. 

It was a really fun event for me because it allowed me to get close to the kids, and tell them about my experience.  Also, having John Starks (former New York Knicks player) there made it fun for the kids.  So for the kids, it was a fun, but also serious moment.  Without the Knicks organization, without the Garden of dreams, without the Heart to Heart foundation, without the dedicated team of people behind me, it would not be possible.

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Q:  If there was one thing you want people to get out of all your experiences and your charity work, what would it be?

Turiaf:  The only thing I would say is that first and foremost, I wish I didn’t have to do it, and I wish that none of those tragic, sad, and unfortunate events would have happened.  The one thing I want people to know is I will not stop trying to raise awareness about this topic.  One person every 37 seconds die from heart complications. Three-hundred-thousand people died every year from heart related issues.

After that, if people want to jump on board and help me, and help the Heart to Heart Association, and help the American Society of Echocardiography, they know where to find me.  They can go to my website ronnyturiaf21.org, and we get back to them with the next 24 to 48 hours.  The more people we can have on board, the better it is for everybody.

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