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Joining me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County's "Life Without Limits Gala" were Impact Award honorees Dennis Kuhl, Angels Baseball Chairman, Amanda Fowler, representing Edwards Lifesciences, and Dr. Michael Muhonen, CHOC Children's Director of Neurosurgery

Joining me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County’s “Life Without Limits” gala were Impact Award honorees Dennis Kuhl, Angels Baseball Chairman, Amanda Fowler, representing Edwards Lifesciences as its Executive Director of Global Corporate Giving, and Dr. Michael Muhonen, CHOC Children’s Director of Neurosurgery

My heart was touched by Reo Kobayashi and Brianna Pievac when they greeted me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County’s “Life Without Limits Gala.” They were welcoming the 370 guests attending the black and white-themed soiree at the Island Hotel, and their big smiles, while dressed in their party finery, told you what the fundraiser was all about (see photo).  For 60 years, UCP-OC has been serving children with a wide array of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. The gala, established six years ago, has raised more than $2.3 million, which is pretty impressive. Add $437,000 to that figure, which was what was netted for the evening, and that’s close to $3 million in seven years.

The gala attracts community leaders and corporate partners who are passionate about the cause. Past honorees include Michael Hayde, Jim Mazzo, Julia and George Argyros and David Pyott. This year’s benefit kept standards high by honoring Angels Baseball Chairman, Dennis Kuhl, a CHOC Children’s Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon and Director of its Neurosurgery Division, Dr. Michael Muhonen, and Edwards Lifesciences. 

Following a tempting silent auction and reception in the ballroom’s foyer, guests gathered in the ballroom for dinner and the awards. Master of ceremonies Tim Brundige warmly welcomed everyone and thanked the gala sponsors, including top sponsors The Allergan Foundation and the Argyros Family Foundation, for their generosity. UCP-OC board member Matthew Maletta introduced the first honoree, his friend, Dennis Kuhl, saying, “Dennis’ impact on children with disabilities in our community is great.” The Chris and Rebecca Arguon family presented Kuhl with the award, in appreciation for the help their daughter Ruby has received at the Bud Kuhl Therapy Room at UCP-OC, named for Dennis’ late father. It was a picture-perfect moment as UCP-OC recipient Azalea played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the keyboard to honor Dennis as all the UCP kids attending gathered on the dance floor in red Angels t-shirts. Deeply moved, Kuhl said, “It is such a privilege for me to give back to these kids.”

Dr. Mulhonen’s presentation included testimonials by four of his patients. Sarah Hatch thanked Mulhonen for implanting her with the first Baclofen Pump, which she said enabled her to walk and even run within six weeks of surgery. Paris Taylor’s father spoke for her, concluding with Paris saying, “I love you, Dr. Mulhonen.” Sydney Wyma said, “Thanks to you, Dr. Mulhonen, I have been able to realize my passion of playing the violin,” while Juneau Resnick, who said she had had 10 brain surgeries performed by Dr. Mulhonen, thanked him for performing her most recent one. OCP-OC President/CEO Deborah Levy presented Mulhonen with the award, to which Mulhonen responded, “The CP population is my extended family – my ‘angels of the night,’ according to my wife. I am honored to have four angels on stage with me tonight. So, to my angels,” he said, “thank you for your inspirational stories and thank you for the privilege of caring for you.” As a surprise gift to Mulhonen, Juneau sang a beautiful rendition of “The Rose” (see her photo performing).

Gala co-chairs Jeannette Wistner and Blair Minnis presented the Corporate Impact Award to Edwards Lifesciences, the global leader in the science of heart valves and critical care monitoring, which supports the UCP-OC Early Intervention Program. Receiving the award was John McGrath, Ph.D., who is Edwards’ Corporate Vice President of Quality, Regulatory, Clinical. On stage with McGrath was Chandra Gibson and her daughter Leilani, who we we were told via video she had had her first heart surgery at age nine months and through UCP-OC’s physical therapy programs was making great strides (see mother/daughter photo). McGrath said that Leilani was the recipient of one of its heart valves. “We at Edwards Lifesciences see the incredible work United Cerebral Palsy, Orange County, does,” McGrath said, “and we are proud to support its vision.”

The live auction, overseen by auctioneer Bill Menish, featured a meet & greet with Sarah McLaughlan, golf at Pelican Hill with Dennis Kuhl and Angels great Chuck Finley, a hitting lesson with another Angels great Rod Carew, plus getaways to Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and Chicago. Tickets to a Ducks vs. Kings playoff game that same week sold for $4,000 to an avid hockey fan. The only stipulation was that you be a Ducks fan!

In his closing remarks, Brundige asked that the gala committee, board of directors, staff, and volunteers step onto the dance floor for a collective toast for their commitment to children with disabilities in Orange County. I have to say that was a very clever way to pack the dance floor for the gala’s next phase – dancing to the California Band. It was not wasted! Proceeds benefited UCP-OC’s six major service areas: early intervention, therapy, respite care, inclusive childcare, recreation program, and family support.

Aside: Hats off to the Island’s chef and his staff – dinner was really delicious with sautéed prawns on squash blossom risotto, traditional wedge salad, seared filet and herb crusted Chilean sea bass, and a to-die-for s’more pudding cake with salted ice cream topped with house made marshmallow and graham cracker crisp. Yum!!

Selected photos by Don Didier