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Joining me at CHOC Children's 50 Golden Years of Caring gala were, from left, decor chair Heather Madden and gala co-chairs Stephanie Argyros and Christine Bren

Joining me at CHOC Children’s “50 Golden Years of Caring” gala were, from left, decor chair Heather Madden and gala co-chairs Stephanie Argyros and Christine Bren

CHOC Children’s Hospital’s “50 Golden Years of Caring” gala at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach tugged at the heart strings and left everyone feeling great pride in this landmark children’s hospital in our midst. CHOC President & CEO Kimberly Cripe thanked what she called the “CHOC People.” She said the telling signs are “when eyes fill with tears at the sight of our little patients laughing along with Crush at ‘Turtle Talk,’ a voice that cracks when relating a story about a family on our cancer unit, or knees that crouch down to greet a child eye to eye.” And, she said, “If you’re friends with CHOCO on Facebook, that’s also a dead giveaway.” Cripe went on recognize CHOC’s doctors and nurses, who she said, “are on the front lines of caring for our patients every day and possess a rare and special combination of intellect, compassion, courage, and endurance.”

The 550-guest gala was certainly a celebratory affair. First of all, to celebrate 50 years of a public entity in Orange County is pretty remarkable but then to celebrate what U.S. News & World Report called one of the best children’s hospitals in the country for 2013-14 was really something to shout about! Cripe especially thanked Bill Holmes for his extremely generous donation, which named the Bill Holmes Tower, and, according to Cripe, “has transformed the hospital experience for our patients and their families.” Cripe presented the CHOC Children’s Champion Award to the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, and if the name Seacrest sounds familiar, yes, it is Ryan Seacrest and his sister Meredith and parents Connie and Gary Seacrest, who created the foundation to make a difference in childrens’ lives. Ryan, according to Cripe, wanted to showcase a full-blown, state-of-the-art radio station at CHOC, and she said it has provided a place where patients can make song requests, sing and dance along to their favorite music and interact with celebrities and recording artists. “I truly believe that the smiles, laughter and happiness CHOC patients find at Seacrest Studios are just as powerful as any medicine we can offer them,” Cripe said in presenting the award to the family.

Gala master of ceremonies and West Coast University President Dr. Barry Ryan introduced gala co-chairs Christine Bren and Stephanie Argyros, who in turn thanked their committee, which included decor chair Heather Madden, and executive committee members Jill Bolton, Kathryn Cenci, Kristina Dodge, Suzy Elghanayan, Niloofar Fakhimi, Monica Furman, Leyla Milani Khoshbin, Caroline Marchant, and David and Marsha Willis. Also recognized was the foundation staff, headed by Zack Abrams, and major sponsors the Argyros Family Foundation, West Coast University, Harry Winston, and South Coast Plaza. Later, in the Fund-A-Need portion of the auction, Julia and George Argyros elected to give an additional $100,000 to CHOC through their foundation, which helped boost total net proceeds to approximately $800,000 for the gala.

Following a scrumptious dinner featuring California red wine braised short rib on white cheddar potatoes and mushroom crusted Chilean sea bass, accompanied by Pegasus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010, the live auction commenced with auctioneer Joel Burlingame at the helm. Moses Said won the amazing sports package for $16,000 that featured premium tickets to the Angels, Dodgers, Lakers, and Ducks’ games. A South Coast Plaza package included a $1,250 gift certificate and VIP one-year parking pass, a Bally overnight bag, Chloe handbag, Jo Malone fragrances and private party, and a Pegasus wine basket. There were also his and her Corum timepieces and getaways to New York and the Hilltop estate at Lake Arrowhead. One of the most sought after items was the Harry Winston heart-shaped pave diamond necklace (it was close to Valentine’s Day), which was won by Kobe Bryant for his wife Vanessa for $14,000.

CHOC patients and family members touched hearts when they spoke about what CHOC means to them. Those speaking included Alexys Alonzo, Charlotte Jordan, Bryan Mudia, Natalie Reggio, Marni Sugden, Caroline Sunshine, Nolan Torres, and Esaid Zaid-Romero.

It was left to Grammy Award-winning artist Sheryl Crow to close the evening with a memorable performance. After opening with “A Change Would Do You Good,” she said, “I’m sweating! I have to admit I didn’t expect Kobe Bryant to be sitting right in front of me!” Guests departed with a Planet Beauty gift bag of hair and skin products, a Voluspa champagne rose candle and a cuddly CHOCO Bear waiting in their cars.

Aside: I sat at a table filled with doctors and nurses from CHOC Children’s, and they were delightful. Dr. Jim Pierog and his wife Nancy have been at the hospital for many years and really love their jobs as Director of Emergency Medicine and RN, respectively. I also met Dr. Jason Toranto, a recent transplant from Los Angeles Children’s Hospital who specializes in craniofacial surgery. “CHOC is  amazing,” Toranto said. “It’s a happy place.”

Selected photos by Bob Hodson Studio