Kenneth Mendez, Chief Executive Officer and President
Mendez’s career has bridged the corporate and non-profit sectors. Early in his career, he worked on Wall Street in investment banking and then in business development at The Walt Disney Company. His career focus evolved to the non-profit sector based on a connection to causes about which he is passionate. Mendez, an avid fly fisherman, left Walt Disney to become the Chief Operating Officer of the nonprofit, Trout Unlimited, America’s largest cold-water fisheries conservation organization. Based on his success at Trout Unlimited, he was recruited by AdvaMed to develop and launch new business initiatives, manage business operations and lead strategic planning. He has built his career in the senior leadership of nonprofits by growing the reach of these organizations, a track record he brings to AAFA.
Since joining AAFA, he has led the organization in establishing a new multi-year strategic plan that emphasizes dramatically reducing the impact of asthma and allergies on the underserved and tripling the size of AAFA’s online asthma community. The new strategic plan’s vision is for AAFA to be recognized as the most trusted ally serving the asthma and allergy community.
Mendez has quickly become a thought leader in the asthma and allergy community. He served as an External Reviewer for the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review’s (ICER) asthma assessment. In that role, he informed ICER on how to better represent the patient voice. In 2019, Mendez served as a patient advocacy expert for ICER’s review on emerging peanut allergy therapies.
Under Mendez’ guidance, several patient advocacy organizations have joined together to advocate on issues important to people with food allergies – including sesame allergy. He also leads communications with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on ongoing access barriers to epinephrine auto-injectors.
He is quoted in outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and NBC Nightly News, among others. Mendez has an MBA in marketing from Columbia Business School and a B.A. in American History and American Art from Harvard College. Mendez also has a personal stake in AAFA’s mission as he and two of his children manage asthma and allergies.
Melanie Carver, Chief Mission Officer
Melanie Carver became Chief Mission Officer for AAFA in 2020. Previously, she served as Vice President of Community Health and Marketing from 2016 through 2020. She leads the organization’s strategy, community services, marketing and communications, education, and grassroots advocacy.
Her career has focused on community/patient engagement and support. She has extensive experience in patient-centered communications, community-building, data strategy, digital content marketing and social media.
Under her strategic lead, the AAFA organization now has well over 350,000 social media followers and 60,000 registered community members. She has quadrupled AAFA’s online reach and more than doubled the organization’s media presence during her tenure. She has been featured in national and local media outlets including the Washington Post, Newsweek, SELF, USA Today, Parade, Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, Chicago Tribune, and Motherly.
Under Carver’s leadership, the organization expanded its work in promoting health equity. She is co-author of the Foundation’s landmark Asthma Disparities in America report and provided strategic leadership in the launch of the organization’s Health Equity Advancement and Leadership program. Carver has also expanded the organization’s library of education programs for patients, caregivers, and allied health professionals. She is a staunch proponent for health literacy and health equity.
She led the development of a digital intervention for underserved adults with asthma as part of a five-year cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program, ASTHMA Care for Adults, is available for free online at aafa.org/asthmacare and teaches adults how to manage and control asthma. She is the Principal Investigator for a second five-year cooperative agreement with the CDC for community-based interventions in a project called Community Health Interventions to Advance Self-Management of Asthma (CHI-ASMA).
Carver also leads the organization’s work on environmental control (indoor and outdoor). Carver has raised greater awareness of AAFA’s joint venture, the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, and how it addresses indoor air quality and allergen exposure. She leads the organization’s support of asthma home visits and assessments as well as climate readiness and resilience.
She has served as a steering committee member for the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition. She was also a member of the Climate & Respiratory Health Workgroup for the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
She lives near Seattle, Washington, with her family. She and her family have firsthand experience managing asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis), seasonal allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis, and multiple food allergies.
Sanaz Eftekhari, Chief of Business Development and VP of Research
Sanaz Eftekhari became the Chief of Business Development and Vice President of Research in 2022. Previously, she was the Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Research at AAFA. In her current role, Ms. Eftekhari leads tactical and strategic conversations with business partners and stakeholders across multiple industries, including patient advocacy organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical societies, research firms and government agencies.
During her tenure at AAFA, Sanaz has served in several roles in business development and has gained experience in patient-centered research, patient advocacy, marketing, communications and business development.
She works closely with project teams – both within AAFA and with other organizations – to collect patient insights, develop programs and increase awareness of asthma and atopic diseases through a variety of social and communications channels.
Working with AAFA’s community outreach staff, she is overseeing the BASIC program, which matches researchers with patient advisors to encourage successful patient-centered research. She also oversees AAFA’s partnership with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) on studies that help patients make informed health care decisions, such as the AFFORD Study.
AAFA has partnered with other organizations to present patient perspectives on the needs for atopic dermatitis treatments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Eftekhari has been instrumental in this effort. The “More Than Skin Deep” patient-focused drug development (PFDD) initiative is the first of its kind for atopic dermatitis.
Eftekhari has also co-authored several of AAFA’s key research reports, such as My Life With Food Allergy, My Life With Asthma and Atopic Dermatitis in America Summary Report. Research from these reports is shared with researchers, medical experts and policy makers to emphasize patient needs for treatment options, advocacy and support.
In a greater effort to connect patients with vital clinical trials, she has been a key player in the development of AAFA’s upcoming clinical trial database. The database will help people with asthma and allergies easily find clinical trials best suited for them.
She currently serves as Secretary on the Board of Directors for the Global Allergy & Airways Patient Platform (GAAPP) – a global organization serving patient groups for asthma, allergy, atopic dermatitis and related conditions. She also served as Secretary on the Board of Directors for Neighbor to Nation from 2017-2018. Eftekhari earned her B.A. in Political Science and Government from the George Washington University. She loves to travel and has visited more than 45 countries.
Kathy Przywara, Vice President of Community
Kathy Przywara is the Vice President of Community at Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). She has worked in community management since 2005, managing and engaging groups of constituents. Her career has focused on community/patient engagement and support. She has extensive experience in community-building, digital content marketing, and social media.
Ms. Przywara served as the Assistant Community Manager of the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation (KFA) when that organization merged with AAFA in 2013. She brought her community building expertise to AAFA and helped launch AAFA’s award-winning asthma and allergy patient support community in 2016. Under her guidance, AAFA’s two online communities have grown to be the largest patient support communities available for these conditions.
As Vice President of Community, Przywara oversees AAFA’s Support Center which offers vital direct patient support via our toll-free 800 line, Ask the Allergist service, and online help. She also bridges online support with local community programming. She is the AAFA National liaison for the foundation’s regional chapters as well as AAFA-affiliated support groups.
Przywara works directly with patients and caregivers on AAFA’s communities to provide support and education through their journey with asthma and allergies. She directs digital outreach and social media for the organization. Her work includes social listening to identify topics of interest and importance for patients and families. She is a patient advocate, elevating the needs of AAFA’s communities to stakeholders and policymakers. She developed AAFA’s Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs) and regularly seeks feedback from patient advisors and focus groups to improve programs and research.
Przywara has supported several of AAFA’s key research projects including the AFFORD study conducted by AAFA and Harvard Medical School and Harvard Health Care Institute. She ensures the patient voice is represented and included in the research process.
Through her work with AAFA’s Kids with Food Allergies division, Przywara has helped thousands of families learn how to cook and bake with allergy-safe substitutions. You can find dozens of her recipes available in the Safe Eats® recipe collection. In addition to her love of cooking, Przywara is an avid cyclist and hiker and encourages others to manage their asthma well so they too can spend time outdoors and achieve their physical activity goals.