Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, the 2017 Memorial Hermann Circle of Life Gala proved to be one of the liveliest parties of the social season, with a combination of heart-tugging stories from former patients and such crowd-pleasing touches as a marching band, a colorful balloon drop, and non-stop hits performed by the Atlanta-based band Simply Irresistible that kept the large dance floor packed throughout the evening.
Dr. Benjamin K. Chu, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System, boogied with philanthropist Margaret Alkek Williams, while nearby, KPRC Channel 2 anchor Dominique Sachse and Nick Florescu, Diane Lokey Farb and Neal Hamil, and KHOU Channel 11 anchor Len Cannon (who emceed the evening) and Bernadette Verzosa were among those showcasing their best dance moves.
Many in the crowd of more than 1,600 at the Hilton Americas-Houston sported flashing neon sunglasses, plastic microphones and guitars, and twinkling tambourines that were handed out to those on the dance floor as they got down to a mix of tunes and a special appearance by The Voice contestant Támar Davis.
The gala, chaired by Memorial Hermann System Board members Diane and Bill Campbell and Elizabeth and Will Galtney, brought in $3.1 million, the second largest total in the event's history.
Before the frivolity began, Anne E. Neeson, the recently named executive vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Foundation, and Dr. Kevin P. Lally, Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital surgeon-in-chief, honored former pediatric patients Emily and Caitlin Copeland, Dominic Larkin, and Faith Hagler, and the doctors who saved their lives.
Larkin survived a fall into a hot tub as an infant and was treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which bypasses the lungs, enabling the body to rest and the lungs to heal, while Hagler was the first in Texas to undergo in utero surgery for spina bifida. Born conjoined at the liver and chest in 1996, the Copeland twins underwent successful separation surgery at only 10 months old and are now thriving college students.
Long-time corporate partner H-E-B was also honored, with Memorial Hermann board member and H-E-B Houston CEO Scott McClelland accepting the award. "If you're going to get sick, Houston is the place to do it, and, of course, Memorial Hermann is the premier hospital in Houston," McClelland told the crowd.
Playing on the birthday theme, designer Elizabeth Swift of Swift + company created centerpieces filled with flowers and balloons. Guests posted for photos in front of a eight-foot-high replica of a birthday cake at the entrance to the ballroom. After dinner, 40 waiters and waitresses marched out, each with three-tiered birthday cakes while the Waltrip High School “Roaring Red” Ram marching band filled the dance floor and hundreds of colorful balloons cascaded from the ceiling — all organized by Ward & Ames Special Events.
Afterwards, the heartiest partygoers stayed around for the first-ever “Celebration Cellar,” a late night lounge with light bites, cocktails, and dancing, in an intimate setting.
Spotted in the gala crowd were Hallie Vanderhider, Susan Sarofim, Holly and Austin Alvis, Arthur and Philamena Baird, who was the evening's best dressed in a bright yellow one-shoulder gown, Divya and Chris Brown, Jennifer and Brian Caswell, Cathy and Joe Cleary, Susie and Dr. Iggy Distefano, Christine Falgout and Bill Gutknecht, Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout, Kimberly Falgout and Evan Scheele, Stacy and Jason Johnson, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Soraya McClelland, Alice and Keith Mosing, Sherry and Jim Smith, and Dana and Trey Strake.