Lilian Tsi Stielstra’s journey with the American Heart Association began like many other heart disease and stroke survivors. It was on a Saturday morning in 2010. As she awoke, she felt “pins and needles” in her left arm and leg. A few minutes later, the left side of her face went numb.
“I realized it was a stroke because it was all on one side,” said Lilian, who six months earlier had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Fortunately, her husband Scott, a firefighter and paramedic, knew exactly what to do. He rushed her to UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, California. Lilian, who had no residual effects from the stroke, was told by her neurologist to begin walking 30 minutes a day. Within two years of her stroke, she was jogging and pledged to run in a local 7.5-mile race with her son Peter. Today, Lilian runs about 4 miles a day, swims and does strength training. And she lost 25 pounds.
“I call it my stroke of good luck — it was a wake-up call to do the things I knew I should do but didn’t.” Lilian said. “My excuse for many years was that I didn’t have time to exercise. Now I make time.”
She also makes plenty of time to volunteer for the American Heart Association.
A donor and ambassador for the AHA, Lilian is also a national Go Red for Women spokesperson, volunteers for the Kids Heart Challenge and Chinese Community Cardiac Council in San Francisco, and rides her bicycle to fundraise in CycleNation.
Lilian stopped working in 2017, retiring after 30 years of working in the financial services industry. As a certified financial planner at major institutions, she averaged 15-hour days. Now, she dedicates her time to helping others in her community learn about heart disease and stroke.
This year, Lilian decided to make yet another significant impact by establishing a donor advised fund through the AHA Donor Advised Fund Program. A DAF is like a charitable checking account — you can give to multiple charities from one simple account.
“I chose to create an AHA DAF because it’s an organization that I trust. Through my volunteer work with AHA, I see a well-run organization delivering on its mission, so I felt secure in my decision.”
“After consulting with our CPA, it’s a good income tax deduction for us,” Lilian said. “A lot of the previous deductions under the new tax laws don’t apply now.”
“We’re not rich, we’ve been prudent with our money. We want to be able to give year after year. We couldn’t afford a large outright donation, but with the AHA DAF, I was able to donate mutual funds and stocks with substantial gains. This kept us from having to pay capital gains taxes, helping our money go farther for our favorite causes.”
Lilian chose the AHA DAF because she has more control over her money. Donors can designate their financial advisor to manage the assets in the AHA DAF.
“If I were still working today, I’d tell my clients, ‘Now that stocks and bonds have recovered from 2008 lows, why pay capital gains taxes on those stocks that are doing well. Rather than sell them off, create a DAF instead. No capital gains taxes and the money can help your favorite charities. And as their professional financial planner, you get to continue working with your client and re-invest their gift in their DAF account. I would also suggest they consult with their tax advisor to run the numbers to make sure it makes sense as well from the income tax perspective’”, says Lilian.
Lilian named her son and daughter as successors to the fund. “The AHA DAF gives us a way to educate them about charity and teach them how to handle money,” she said.
A DAF might be a good option for you too.