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I was thrilled to be able to announce to resounding applause, "It's official! The US Department of Health and Human Services has declared May National Preeclampsia Awareness Month!" at our annual benefit dinner, Saving Grace - A Night of Hope, on Friday, Oct. 26, in Point Clear, Alabama. The intimate evening was hosted by Leslie Weeks, former board member of the Preeclampsia Foundation and Owen Bailey, hospital administrator for University of South Alabama's Children's & Women's Hospital.
Board members and long-time volunteers of the Preeclampsia Foundation flew in from around the country to take part in this annual benefit dinner, this year held in a beautiful and tranquil setting, the Sonny Hill Polo Complex. A buffet style dinner was held in the beautifully appointed pavilion, followed by a program under a delicately lit tent that overlooked the water. Dr. Gabriella Pridjian, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University's School of Medicine since 2004, provided the keynote address. Pridjian took us through her department's harrowing days during and following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, likening the unpredictability, devastation and lasting impact of that force of nature to the very similar traits of preeclampsia that wreaked havoc on many of our preeclampsia families featured during evening.
(Ironically, Hurricane Sandy wreaked similar disruption in New York just two days later as NICU nurses created makeshift evacuation plans for their tiny patients. Our thoughts are with all the eastern seaboard expectant and new families and their health care providers, even as Sandy winds down and clean up begins.)
Those stories of families deeply impacted by preeclampsia were introduced by Suzanne Stearns and her 11-year old daughter Hannah - who had the unique opportunity to thank both the hospital and the Preeclampsia Foundation for being instrumental in their recovery from early onset preeclampsia. Hannah spent 102 days in Children's & Women's Hospital NICU and Suzanne credits the Foundation with providing the information and emotional support she needed to get through the worse trial of her life.
Our auctioneer for the evening had us in stitches as he provoked some good-natured bidding wars for items ranging from trip packages (Fashion Week in New York had two Alabamians vying to get to the Big Apple!) to a Taylor-Swift-signed guitar (I considered strumming it, but was afraid that would have killed the festivity!), and a gorgeous wall relief, commissioned for the event from artist Ellen Pavlakos. I enjoyed watching my own husband volley with hospital staff for the privilege of owning the first cast of "Embracing Hope." While I agree that a NICU would have been the ideal spot to showcase the hopeful image of mother and baby, I am honored to bring it back to our headquarters, inspiring our mission each day with its profound message.
Other highlights of the evening included: Foundation Board Chair Erik Henrikson recognizing our 2012 Volunteer of the Year Nicole Purnell and our Medical Advisory Board Director Dr. Tom Easterling awarding our two research Vision Grants to Drs. Mark Santillan (University of Iowa) and Stella Goulopoulou (Medical College of Georgia). Easterling described the vital role our Vision Grant funding has had on recent advancements in preeclampsia research, including some current research proposals at the NIH. A remarkable testimony to the catalytic effect that the Foundation is having on research because of your support. If you didn't have a chance to support the Foundation and the hospital's NICU at Saving Grace, please consider making an event donation today.
A special thanks goes to our Foundation Friend sponsor Perkin Elmer, our Foundation Advocate sponsors Alere and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and all our other supporters -- The Center for Reproductive Medicine, Sybil H. Smith Charitable Trust, Pronota, Roche and AirTran - for believing in the power of a committed organization to exact meaningful change on a 2000-year old disease.