What: The Knuckle Ball
Where: The Ballroom at Bayou Place
The scoop: More than 300 locals packed the The Ballroom at Bayou Place for the Houston Knuckle Ball, the Joe Niekro Foundation’s annual gala, which pays tribute to former Houston Astros knuckleballer and 22-year pro baseball veteran, Joe Niekro. The gala, themed “Field of Dreams,” raised support and awareness of brain aneurysm, AVM and hemorrhagic stroke research and awareness, and patient education.
This year’s soiree was chaired by Tricia Bonilla Harrison and Mark Sullivan, who share a personal connection to brain aneurysm (Bonilla Harrison survived a nearly fatal event; Sullivan lost his father, noted physician Dr. Peter Sullivan, to a brain aneurysm). KHOU-TV personality and brain aneurysm survivor, Deborah Duncan, served as the evening’s emcee, while sharing her personal experience and life altering brain aneurysm rupture.
Kirk Wehby, the chief operating officer of the event’s presenting sponsor, Smith, helped kick-off the VIP reception by giving a welcome toast to guests and supporters, followed by a tear-jerking invocation from Wehby’s 13-year-old son, Luc, an AVM survivor.
Guests were surprised by a special live video feed message from famed journalist Geraldo Rivera, godfather of Patricia Bonilla Harrison, who discussed his own sister’s aneurysm rupture. Rivera urged the crowd to give generously and apologized he could not make it in person, as he was about to broadcast live at Fox News.
Outstanding physicians were honored during the evening, including Patient’s Choice Award Recipients Dr. Gavin Britz - Houston Methodist, Dr. Mark Dannenbaum - Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience, and Dr. Jeremiah Johnson - Baylor College of Medicine/Baylor St. Luke’s. The auction was a spectacular success and featured rare items such as original art by Taft McWhorter, a Steak 48 culinary group experience, exquisite jewelry by Mariquita Masterson and rare finds in sports memorabilia. Overall, the event, produced by PDV Special Events, raised nearly $300,000.
The highlight of the evening was the personal testimony of Maxwell ‘Max’ Harrison, the 14-year-old son of Tricia Bonilla Harrison. Max spoke about his and his mother’s journey of strength and courage during her rupture and recovery. Tears flowed and the audience offered a rousing standing ovation as Maxwell described the life-changing 911 call he made to save his mother’s life, and how he is now her caretaker — with sometimes comical results.
The evening culminated with a packed dance floor as the Austin-based band Skyrocket, underwritten and supported by Diane Lokey Farb, rocked the night away.
Proceeds from this year’s event will go towards the advancement and expansion of the foundation’s Patient Services and Education Program, as well as the establishment of a localized clinical research grant for applicants in the Houston area.
Seen in the crowd were Diane Lokey Farb, Marvy and Elaine Finger, Bill and Polly McKeon, Rob Giardinelli, Lance Avery Morgan, Edward Sanchez, Tiffany and Charles Masterson, Kathy and Harry Masterson, Kathryn and Jeff Smith, Dee and Lizzie Sullivan, Libbie Masterson, Jean Sullivan, Dixie DeLuca, Lily Paxson Salinas, Libi Lebel, Kelly McLeod, Ken and Dana Farrar, Melinda and Michael Wilhelm, Angela Gonzalez, Ralph Manginello, Kelly Hunsicker, Dee Dee Gilder, Dr. Rachel Bray, Heather Curran, Gayle Fleming, Dr. and Mrs. Joe Wakil, Staci Ryals, Tony and Olga Bonilla, Duke and Nancy Bonilla, Ted and Cammie Bonilla, Judge Ruby Sondock, Dr. Franklin Rose, David Hoctor, Leslie Wall Hassen, Rama Bahrazi, David Batagower, Ivan Alexander, Dr. Laurel Douglass and Frauline Douglass, Judge Trini Moore, and Veronica Gromada.