Memorial Hermann Foundation celebrated the 30th anniversary of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital at its annual Circle of Life Gala on Saturday, April 29. The festive birthday “CELEBRATION”-themed event was held at the Hilton Americas-Houston and chaired by Memorial Hermann System Board members Diane and Bill Campbell and Elizabeth and Will Galtney. With more than 1,600 guests in attendance including KHOU’s Len Cannon as emcee, the gala raised $3.1 million to benefit Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital’s specialty programs and services.
“As I celebrate my first Circle of Life Gala as President and CEO, I am humbled to honor the impact our physicians and staff have had on our pediatric patients over the past 30 years,” said Dr. Benjamin K. Chu, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System. “Tonight, we say thank you to those caregivers, as well as those who give so generously to support our mission to provide high-quality and safe care to children in Southeast Texas.”
The event reflected on three decades of accomplishments at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Dr. Chu was joined onstage by Anne E. Neeson, the recently named Executive Vice President and CEO of Memorial Hermann Foundation, and the event chairs to introduce a touching video honoring former pediatric patients.
Guests were brought to tears as the video shared the struggles and successes of former patients – Emily and Caitlin Copeland, Dominic Larkin and Faith Hagler – and the determined physicians who gave each story its happy ending:
It was February 2016 when 18-month-old Dominic Larkin of The Woodlands crawled into the family hot tub and was found lying on his back in the water, not moving or breathing. While his mother was able to perform CPR successfully, within days of being admitted to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, his condition deteriorated rapidly into respiratory failure. Dr. Matthew Harting, pediatric surgeon at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and assistant professor in the department of pediatric surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, treated Dominic with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which bypasses the lungs, enabling the body to rest and the lungs to heal. Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is one of only two Houston hospitals offering pediatric ECMO. After weeks of lying motionless, Dominic transitioned successfully into specialized therapy in May 2016.
In 2011 Colette Hagler was pregnant with her daughter Faith. During a routine sonogram, doctors diagnosed the baby with spina bifida, a serious condition in which the vertebrae do not properly develop possibly leading to physical and mental impairments. While treatment to repair the spine is traditionally performed after birth, Colette traveled to Houston from Dallas to The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, where Faith was the first in Texas to undergo in utero surgery for spina bifida. Her surgery was performed by Dr. KuoJen Tsao, co-director of The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and distinguished professor in pediatric surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and Dr. Stephen Fletcher, pediatric neurosurgeon at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and associate professor in the department of pediatric surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Today, Faith is an active and happy child, returning regularly to Houston for routine checkups.
Born conjoined at the liver and chest in 1996, identical twins Emily and Caitlin Copeland underwent separation surgery at only 10 months old. Their surgery was performed by Dr. Kevin Lally, surgeon in chief at Children's Memorial Herman Hospital and chair of the department of pediatric surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth – a twin himself. After a successful operation, today the twins are happy and healthy, and once again separated. After graduating high school as co-valedictorians of their class, Emily is studying at the University of Houston and Caitlin is studying at Concordia University in Austin.
Following the video, all of the patients walked onstage and received a standing ovation.
“If our story of hope can help just one family out there, then we’re excited to share it,” Emily said to gala attendees.
The occasion also honored long-time corporate partner H-E-B and Memorial Hermann board member and H-E-B Houston CEO Scott McClelland.
”Children’s Memorial Hermann is a special place,” said McClelland. “People come in broken and come out whole and with the best of the best, children and their parents are given a second chance.”
In the spirit of the birthday celebration, Houston designer Elizabeth Swift of Swift + company divided the large ballroom into colorful sections, creating centerpieces filled with flowers and balloons. Francisco + co helped to ensure that the event logistics were handled flawlessly.
The event also included a number of surprises produced by Ward and Ames Special Events. A parade of 40 wait staff, each with three-tiered birthday cakes in hand, marched out to the drums of the Waltrip High School “Roaring Red” Ram marching band. Additionally, with lively Vegas-style entertainment by Atlanta-based band Simply Irresistible and a surprise cameo by Houston’s own Támar Davis, attendees danced the night away wearing party hats, boas and festive lighted accessories before the grand finale—a spectacular and colorful balloon drop.
However, the party didn’t end there. One highlight of the night was the first-ever “Celebration Cellar,” an exclusive, late night lounge housed within the ballroom where partygoers enjoyed light bites, cocktails, dancing and party favors in a private setting
“This year’s celebration of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital was one of the most lively and vibrant Circle of Life galas yet. We are honored to have been a part of the annual event,” said the event chairs.
A “Who’s Who” of Houston’s philanthropic and business community celebrated alongside former patients and their families, together with the physicians who make a lifetime of celebrations possible for so many. Partygoers included Holly and Austin Alvis, Philamena and Arthur Baird, Rosanna and Myron Blalock, Divya and Honorable Chris Brown, Diane and Bill Campbell, Jennifer and Brian Caswell, Cathy and Joe Cleary, Dr. Benjamin Chu and Donna Moylan, Susie and Dr. Iggy Distefano, Christine Falgout and Bill Gutknecht, Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout, Kimberly Falgout and Evan Scheele, Elizabeth and Will Galtney, Nina and Edd Hendee, Stacy and Jason Johnson, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Diane Lokey Farb, Soraya and Scott McClelland, Alice and Keith Mosing, Anne Neeson and Craig Janies, Dominique Sachse and Nick Florescu, Susan Sarofim, Sherry and Jim Smith, Dana and Trey Strake, Hallie Vanderhider, Dancie and Jim Ware, Margaret Alkek Williams, Mary and Will Williams.