The power of philanthropy
Chrysanthemum Ball raises life-saving funds for a quarter century
BY DONNA CRARY
The Chrysanthemum Ball, or the Mum Ball as locals call it, is one of the premier fundraising events that kicks off the social season in Martin County. Attendees come dressed to the nines at the black tie affair, anticipating a top-notch soirée. And they’re never disappointed. For 25 years, the ball has been held at numerous venues, including elegant waterfront estates. Many events feature a special theme — stunning themes like Cirque du Soleil, Night in Spain, Pulse of the Future — leaving guests feeling surprised, wowed and delighted. And for all of their fun, patrons have raised millions of dollars to provide top quality medical services at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, formerly known as Martin Memorial.
“It’s an amazing event. The chairs over the 25 years have done a phenomenal job of creating themes and atmospheres that are enchanting,” says Robert Lord, president of Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. “It brings generous people together in support of projects that are important to our organization and to our community to improve the quality of healthcare.”
Again on Nov. 9, the supporters of the hospital are coming together to celebrate the Mum Ball’s silver anniversary of successful giving. This year’s committee is made up of the former chairwomen over the last 25 years. Headed up by Eileen Morris and Sandra Porter, this gala promises to be another hit.
“It’s going to be another fantastic evening,” says Morris. “Every time that we have this event, it is absolutely wonderful.”
The ball will be held on the grounds of Cleveland Clinic Martin South and proceeds will go towards creating a new, comprehensive neuroscience center located at Tradition. Services for the center are planned to include brain and spinal surgery, stroke treatment, pain management and treatment of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. State-of-the-art diagnostic imaging will help to diagnose and treat neurological conditions.
“It will provide local access to care that you could only get, generally, if you go to some renown center,” Lord points out. “That’s what the Cleveland Clinic brings to this community — remarkable studies, the latest in clinical trials, treatment for all manner of neurological disorders — that in the past, have not been available here and local residents have had to access elsewhere, if at all.”
In 1983, Martin Memorial established a foundation which has become a vital fundraising arm of the hospital. The foundation recognized that it needed a grand event to raise funds to accommodate a burgeoning community, and in 1995, created the Chrysanthemum Ball.
For the first five years, the event was planned by hospital staff and a committee. And then in 2000, the Mum Ball committee was led by its first chairwoman, Mercie Peach. In her leadership role, Peach approached it almost like running her marine equipment company that she and her husband, Bill, owned for many years. She saw the fundraising potential of the event and decided to sell the tickets only at sponsorship level. It was an idea that had not been accomplished with the ball before.
“We put it in the newspaper that sponsors were available starting at $1,000 for two guests,” she recalls. “That brought in such a response that before we knew it, the sponsors were all sold out. There were no tickets left.”
That year the festive affair was held at Jack and CeeJay Heckenberg’s waterfront estate in Sewall’s Point. Black, white and silver were the colors highlighting an elegant ambiance as arriving guests were greeted by a butler in tails. Proceeds from the event benefited radiation oncology equipment for the Robert & Carol Weissman Cancer Center.
Supporting your local hospital is essential, Peach points out, because it is lifesaving for the community.
“The hospital is like a beacon that you can go to at anytime and get the help that you need,” she says. “Therefore, it’s important that we have the best healthcare that we can.”
Momentum was building for the Mum Ball in the 2000s and its successful fundraising was no accident. The size of the committees grew and the planning of the event became structured. These philanthropists cared deeply about the projects that they were raising money for, looking for ones that had the most impact. The hospital proposed three projects for the committee to choose from.
Presentations were pitched to them, and then considerable thought and discussion were given before a project was selected.
“We have been so dedicated and diligent in listening to their presentations,” says Sandra Porter, who joined the committee in 2002. “After careful consideration, we make a vote on what we think is the most important one equally for the hospital and equally for our community.”
In 2004, the Mum Ball committee faced a tremendous challenge. The event was set to be hosted by Jim and Judy Rose at their luxurious oceanfront estate in Sailfish Point. Only two months before, Hurricane Frances struck and three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne made landfall, pounding Martin County.
The devastation from the storms left Sailfish Point without electricity. Even worse, MacArthur Boulevard, the road that leads out to the upscale community, had been washed out. In the weeks preceding the ball, residents accessed the development by ferry.
In spite of these impossible circumstances, members of the committee refused to give in.
“When the hurricanes happened, we all said, ‘We’re going to do it,’ and we did,“ says Eileen Morris, who co-chaired that year along with Beverly Whittington. “I didn’t work this hard to cancel. We needed something to celebrate.”
Debra Duvall, a long-standing committee member who also served that year, remembers checking on the Roses’ home weeks after to assess the damage. Expecting to see devastation, she was completely taken by surprise.
“It was surreal — there was not a blade of grass out of place and the front of the house looked perfect,” recalls Duvall. “I walked around to the back of the house and saw a full crew working on it. The owner of the home was in his private helicopter flying his crews in and out, every day, to get the house back. The road to Sailfish Point opened and we wound up having the ball. That was amazing.”
The Mum Ball that year was raising money for the PET/CT scanner, a diagnostic tool that the hospital greatly needed. It is used to target cancer in patients to help provide an effective treatment plan. The committee was $500,000 short of reaching their goal of $1,500,000. At the pre-ball party, some of the spouses of the committee members helped out by doing some additional fundraising of their own.
“I remember there were certain men who went around to their friends at the party and said, ‘Let’s kick in,’” says Dr. Linda Kardos, a long-standing member of the committee. “They came up with the $500,000 to fill in the gap. That was very exciting.”
HEALING HEART CARE
In 2005, the magic continued with a Cirque du Soleil theme held under the big top tent. It was an evening where the circus, gymnastics and theatre came together for an amazing entertainment experience. Attendees found themselves mesmerized by acrobats flying through the air in gravity-defying routines, while contortionists gracefully twisted into incredible poses, and clowns entertained with juggling and playful acts.
That year, the Mum Ball committee selected the cardiac cath lab as its project, and so the event provided funds for new technology, equipment and construction costs. The hospital received approval and was laying the groundwork to start an open-heart surgery center. As part of the program, it needed to upgrade and expand the cath lab to perform interventional cardiology. Up until that time, it was only used for diagnostic purposes.
The program became so successful that in 2007, the ball raised funds towards a second cardiac cath lab.
“The volumes were such that we needed more capacity. Cardiac caths are often required on an emergent basis,” explains Lord. “If someone comes to the ER, quite often, the intervention — if they’re having cardiac distress — is to go in, take a look, and if necessary, place a stent. It’s comforting to know that it’s there. Those projects have saved who knows how many lives. It’s a service that when you need it, you really appreciate it.”
As president of the organization, Lord has been devoted to providing exceptional healthcare with compassion, so patients can lead longer and healthier lives. But little did he anticipate that he would be a recipient of those services that he champions. Recently on June 8, he took a stress test that came back with an abnormal result. His interventional cardiologists informed him that he had a critical blockage in his heart that required immediate attention.
“I could have gone anywhere in the world, including to Cleveland, and I chose to stay and have my surgery here,” he says. “And the care that I received was second to none. I had an outstanding surgeon — Dr. Ed Savage — who has done great things and is highly regarded nationally.”
Lord is rehabilitating from the bypass surgery and says he feels phenomenally well.
“I feel fantastic. I feel better than I did before the surgery, which was less than two months ago,” he says. “I feel the best that I’ve felt in a long time, in terms of physically. I wouldn’t trade what I have here for anyplace else.”
The Mum Ball committee selected the nursing scholarship project in 2014, a program that would allow nurses to earn their Bachelor of Science degree. The committee realized that investing in the hospital’s nursing workforce was a win-win, because it would enhance their knowledge, skills and the level of care that they provide to patients.
The fund has given out nearly $600,000 in financial support to 65 nurses at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. Forty-three nurses have graduated and several have been promoted to leadership positions within the hospital.
Melissa Bennett, a charge nurse in the intensive care unit, feels grateful to be a recipient of the scholarship program. She understands firsthand the importance of higher education and how it has elevated her nursing career. So, she didn’t hesitate when asked to pitch the program to the ball committee.
“I was so nervous — I actually cried, because I am so passionate about nursing,” she says. “This was a huge opportunity, not just for me, but for my peers. I was so excited when they said, ‘yes.’”
Bennett began taking classes towards her bachelor’s degree in 2012, while employed as a staff nurse in the ICU. She says that furthering her education has broadened her scope, helped her understand the business side of nursing, prepared her as a leader and made her a better nurse.
It also paved the way for her to become a charge nurse that she is so passionate about. Being a nurse is about touching patients’ lives, she says, adding that she finds it very fulfilling.
“When I’m at the bedside, I want to make a difference,” she explains. “And I just don’t want to make them with my patients, but with their families, too. When someone says, ‘thank you’ — they heartfelt tell you that you really made a difference. That is the greatest reward that any human, in my opinion, can receive. It’s knowing that you touched somebody’s life.”
SIMULATORS STRENGTHEN SKILLS
An innovative project that was funded by the Mum Ball committee in 2015 was the brainchild of Brenda Byk. Her idea was to start up a simulation center, a learning place where new medical associates could hone a wide range of clinical skills on lifelike simulation mannequins. The training would allow them to get hands-on experience before they would tend to a patient.
“I was lucky enough to be selected that year,” she says. “There was an idea in place and the committee made that happen. We’ve been very fortunate.”
Nurses and patient care technicians who are newly employed at the hospital are required to train at the simulation center.
“They come through orientation here, which they spend time in the classroom with the lecture portion,” says Byk. “Then they do task training, so the simple tasks and specific skills get practiced in the task lab. After they’ve learned it through the lecture, they’ve demonstrated skills in the task lab, it then accumulates in simulation.”
In the simulation part of the program, trainees practice a wide variety of skills on high-fidelity mannequins. They prepare for basic to more complex emergency-management type situations. Some may include code blues, stroke, head-to-toe assessment, airway management, and glycemic control and medication management.
After they have received sufficient training, they are evaluated to validate their competency in those skills. First there is prebriefing, where the instructors explain the medical scenario to the trainees. Then they act out the scenario on their own, under the careful observation of experts.
“At the end of the scenario, they perform debriefing, and the participants and instructors talk about what went well, what could they improve on, and then how to move forward after the training in the hospital setting,” Byk explains.
The center also provides instruction for the hospital’s EMTs and paramedics. The mannequin simulators can be placed in the back of an ambulance, where personnel can learn and train in familiar working surroundings.
“We’re providing a place for our caregivers where they can practice their skills and gain knowledge in an environment that’s completely safe,” Byk explains. “Here it’s OK to make mistakes and learn. We get to validate their competency and we’re ensuring that our patients are safe.”
Looking back on the last 25 years, it’s easy to see the imprint that the Chrysanthemum Ball has left to improve healthcare in our community. Funds that have advanced numerous programs for Cleveland Clinic Martin Health have all been possible through the compassion, dedication and generosity of philanthropists. It would be hard to imagine these services without them. The projects have saved lives and transformed the quality of medical care that the hospital provides.
The power of philanthropy is alive and well on the Treasure Coast and now more than ever, the hospital needs its continued support, says Lord, so it can deliver exceptional medical care.
“The difference between good healthcare and great healthcare is, as we move into the future, it’s going to be dependent on the support of the people who live in the community,” says Lord. “Community support is critical. These things don’t happen without philanthropy and the Chrysanthemum Ball has been critical to that. That is where these incredible residents come together and support projects in mass, and they make amazing things happen.”