The scene seemed straight from the children's classic Madeline: dozens of impossibly lovely children and their parents in their Sunday finest, happily nibbling away at finger sandwiches and other fare in a tranquil hall festooned with stunning floral displays, teddy bears, and a dazzling balloon wall centerpiece.
The little girls were mild and mannerly. The little boys? Well, someone had to dive-bomb and tackle the 4-foot teddy bears, yes?
Such was The Ultimate Teddy Bear Tea Party, an elegant (and lively) Sunday affair offering a new twist on the St. Regis Hotel’s traditional Teddy Bear Tea. The new spin on the time-honored St. Regis event spotlighted children’s health, namely heart health. The tea was the perfect showcase for Children’s Heart Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and its game-changing work — especially in pediatric, open-heart surgery — with many of the highly specialized procedures only done at the Children’s Heart Center and a handful of other centers in the country.
In her welcome remarks, Susie Distefano, CEO of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital noted that the Children’s Heart Center is one of only 13 programs in the U.S. and Canada to receive the highest level distinction (a 3-out-of-3 star rating) from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, which evaluates over 119 programs. This distinction makes the Children’s Heart Center among the elite for congenital heart surgery programs in the U.S. and Canada.
A striking and often poignant video followed, centering on the lifesaving work of Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami, who recently corrected a congenital heart defect in 8-year-old pediatric heart patient, Ethan Page. Triumphantly, Ethan was back playing baseball just weeks later, and instead bearing a massive chest scar from the procedure, enjoys a minimal memory from a small incision is his armpit.
The engaging and dashing Dr. Dodge-Khatami (new to Houston but sure to be a Med Center star soon) spoke at length about giving children the greatest opportunity for a normal life. He cited procedures he performs that are only done in a handful of centers in the country, including biventricular repair and recruitment; full, one-stage repair in newborns; and minimally invasive right axillary repair.
“We don’t want these kids to focus on their scars,” he told CultureMap. “We want them to focus on living and enjoying life.”
And enjoy they did, as they lined up for activities such as CPR on teddy bears to the tune of the Bee Gees’ classic, “Stayin’ Alive.” (The song beat famously matches the beat needed to perform CPR on a person’s chest.) Kids packed the giant, 8-foot-long “Operation” game to play surgeon, jumped on two Pump It Up Prime dance machines, played toss with Corn Hole and heart-shaped bean bags, and got crafty at the Valentine’s arts station.
The St. Regis’ Teddy Bear mascot greeted guests and guests snapped photos with the CMHH mascot, Topper the Giraffe. A colorful Donut Wall was displayed in the ballroom lobby where guests could grab a treat upon exiting. Speaking of grabbing treats, adults were invited to steal away to the fab Bloody Mary bar, which provided refreshment (and occasional reprieve) from the kids’ playhouse.
As an added dash of tea time tastefulness, at the close of the event, guests discovered party favors in their cars that included a note from the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital family, along with a handy CPR instructional card in English and Spanish, and a Gund teddy bear wearing a t-shirt resembling a lab coat and stethoscope as well as the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital logo.
Bravo, then, to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and event chairs Jennifer Allison, Monica Bickers, Laura Davenport, Christine Falgout, Melissa Juneau, and Rachel Regan for hosting an event with style, grace, and heart.
Only one burning question, one from hopeful parents, remains: Would you please host this Teddy Bear Tea every Sunday?
Seen in the distinguished crowd were: Christine Falgout and Bill Gutknecht, Lindley Arnoldy, Rachel Regan, Laura Davenport, Melissa Juneau, Valerie Dieterich, Monica Bickers, Dr. Jorge Salazar and April Salazar, Jennifer Allison, Sarah Snyder, Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami and Dr. Jannika Dodge-Khatami, and Susie Distefano.