- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Fundraising at events devoted to long-known and ubiquitous health issues can be challenging. Especially when you have to remind potential donors of their own mortality.

“Look around,” American Heart Association of Greater Washington Board President Mark Turco told 600 guests at the organization’s 10th annual Heart Gala at the Ritz-Carlton/Tysons Corner on Saturday night. “One in three of you will have some form of cardiovascular disease.”

That sobering statistic prompted a ripple of uncomfortable laughter from the assemblage, which included Greater Washington Region Board Chairman Stanley Gutkowski, event chairmen George and Susan Newstrom, and special appeals chairman Harris Miller. However, there were other statistics as well. Emcee Leon Harris called for a round of applause when he reminded donors (who were dining on decidedly un-heart-healthy filet mignon) that cardiovascular-related deaths had been reduced by 25 percent in the past nine years, a statistic due possibly to the American Heart Association’s continued commitment to funding research and education projects.

The evening began with a VIP reception and silent auction, with guests hovering to bid on their favorite items. Among the most hotly contested: tickets to “The Lion King” at the Kennedy Center. Later, a live auction brooked a few hearty but good-natured bidding wars as participants vied for holidays abroad, dinner with Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta, and a chance for a tete-a-tete with Bill Clinton.

The brightest face belonged to 3-year-old Olivia Grace Jones, resplendent in a copper-colored dress, shiny shoes, twinkling tiara — and a fully functioning heart thanks to a transplant performed when she was just 17 months old. The happiest? That would Kevin and Schonay Jones, who joined their daughter and other guests in some active boogieing on the dance floor.

Lisa Rauschart

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