Life Savers Foundation of OC Raises $400K at Inaugural Gala Held at Balboa Bay Resort

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Carole Pickup and Heidi Miller at the Life Savers Foundation event / Photo by Tony Lattimore

The Grand Ballroom of the Balboa Bay Resort came to life Thursday, Jan. 19 as some 300 guests attended the inaugural celebration of the new nonprofit organization, The Life Savers Foundation of Orange County.

The Life Savers Foundation began in 2017 when Laguna Beach businesswoman Heidi Miller stepped forward to donate a life-saving kidney to longtime Orange County journalist Bruce Cook, who serves as editor of the Bay Window Magazine, published by the Pickup-Martin ownership of Balboa Bay Club.

Carole Pickup was the first to discover Cook suffered from serious kidney disease in 2015 and began a campaign to find a donor for him. Her effort culminated in the first donor awareness event in May of 2017 with some 500 guests arriving at the same ballroom to help find a donor for Cook.

No one stepped forward. Word of mouth of the successful event spread. Miller, who did not attend, and did not know Cook, stepped forward. On November 17, 2017 Miller and Cook became related literally as a transplant was performed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, saving Cook’s life.

Ladies of the committee supporting The Life Savers Foundation / Photo by Tony Lattimore

Five years of planning delayed by 2.5 years of pandemic stalls delivered a spectacular launch party—no formal invitations, just word-of-mouth and a small amount of pre-press. A generous community came together raising nearly $400,000 for an unknown start-up nonprofit.

After a lively cocktail reception held in the hotel ballroom foyer, the doors were opened revealing a magical yet folksy and comfortable setting of all white tables surrounding a glass dance floor underlit with changing colors of the Life Savers rainbow fronting a stage occupied by the classy Jerry Mandel Irvine Barclay Theatre Jazz Band.

Dinner featured shrimp cocktails iced in martini glasses followed by beef tenderloin, fettucine Alfredo and a curated vegetable gourmet salad.

As dinner ended, tributes and speeches captured the attendees. Guest of honor, and co-founder of the non-profit, Heidi Miller, mesmerized all with her story. More importantly, her work over the last five years helping to facilitate donor transplants for some 30 patients in need called for applause.

One story in particular focused on the kidney donation by former Chapman University President Dr. James Doti, who, inspired by Heidi’s journey donated his kidney altruistically at UCI, ending up saving a stranger’s life in Santa Ana. Doti addressed the evening via a heartfelt video.

The Smith family shared the gift of the daughter’s kidney donation to the father / Photo by Tony Lattimore

Also sharing their journey was Tom Johnson, editor of Stu News, who was saved with a kidney donation from his brother, and the Smith family whose daughter donated to save her father. The crowd was moved. Several individuals stood up when Miller asked if anyone in the audience needed an organ.

An “ASK” followed, led by master of ceremonies John Wortmann, Chairman of the Board of Governors of Balboa Bay Club, joining Devon Martin, daughter of Carole Pickup and wife of International Bay Clubs President Kevin Martin.

Donor paddles raised continuously across the ballroom as people stood up offering major gifts.

With the “ASK” ending, the evening transitioned into a concert with dancing under the direction of the Mandel Band with the vocals by Bruce Cook.

Perhaps the best news came from Miller after the final song was delivered, “Smile,” a special request from Chair Carole Pickup.

“Three people have come up to me tonight to offer a potential kidney donation to someone in need,” she said with joy.

In the generous crowd were O.C. Supervisor Katrina Foley, John Stephens, Mayor of Costa Mesa, Kathy and Noel Hamilton, Anne and John Wortmann, Pamela Selber, Sandy and Richard Haskell, Amy Teresi, Aaron Ritter, Morgan Golceker, Michael Brant-Zawaski, Camille and Mathew Reed, Tracy and Rick Weiner, Joe Moody with Caroline Davenport and Dana Dowers.

Also front and center were Riviera Magazine Publisher Christopher Gialanella, South Coast Plaza’s Lee Healy, Lana Sills, Firebrand Media’s Steve Zepezaur and Tracy Powell, Leslie Cancellieri, attorney Alex Chazen and blogger-influencer Sabrina Chazen, Sharon and Gary Grimes, Bob Jacob, Jean and Bill Mauerhan, Alison and Kim McCormick, Diane Modini, celeb Chef Jamie Gwen, Patti and Bill O’Desky, Balboa Island Museum founder Shirley Pepys, Mimi and Nelson Holdo, Penny Pralle, Catherine Thyen, Marilyn and Dave Wooten and Richard Pickup.

Dr. John Huffman, paster-emeritus of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, served as executive consultant, delivering heartfelt remarks opening and then closing the evening with purpose, passion and promise.

To learn more about Life Savers Foundation please email [email protected].

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