Breakthrough Ball

The CCBF Gala Ball: It All Started with a Child

I asked myself not only quietly, but on stage, aloud to the crowd of some 600, what was I doing in New York City, on stage, sharing an award with three remarkable celebrities on my birthday? Less than a week before I was in the sweltering heat of the Philippines, visiting families with hemophilia who earn only about $3 a day.

I attended the incredible “Breakthrough Ball” Gala fundraiser for the Children’s Cancer and Blood Foundation (CCBF) on Tuesday, October 28, not only as a guest but as an honoree. Actually Save One Life was being honored, the nonprofit I founded in 2000 to offer direct financial sponsorship to the children with hemophilia in the developing world. Also being honored were rapper/music producer Swizz Beatz, actor Steve Guttenberg, and former New York Yankees pitcher Al Leiter. To see my name on the program with these gentlemen was humbling.

This was a black tie event, my first. After lavish cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we were seated. I sat with Dr. Donna DiMichele, renowned hematologist of the New York Presbyterian Hospital, who is on the board of directors of the CCBF, and who recently just joined the board of Save One Life, and also Tara Reddi and Janis Cecil (with husband Charles) of the Marlborough Gallery. I truly enjoyed chatting with artist Hunt Slonem, who sat to my left. To make the evening even more special, my daughter attended as my date, as this was also her birthday!

Actor Charles Grodin opened the evening, and surprised us all with a guest appearance by singer Lou Christie! He sang his signature “Lightnin’ Strikes,” a song released in 1966. I loved listening to it in 7th grade, and still do! 

Then Charles Grodin aired a music video by Swizz Beatz, which showed him visiting children with cancer in the hospital. He created a theme song for the CCBF and was the first to receive an award. I must confess I had never heard of him (I think I’ve been traveling a bit too much these past few years) but what an exceptional young man to be so devoted to charity! 

Then Steve Guttenberg was presented with his award. I didn’t realize this comic superstar had done so many charitable things. From spearheading an effort to get 50,000 eyeglasses for low income children, to volunteering 16 hour days incognito to help Katrina victims, to funding the “Guttenhouse,” a transitional home for foster children. 

Also accepting an award was Al Leiter, who has 19 years in the Major Leagues as a pitcher, and has won nearly every philanthropic award MLB offers, including the 2000 Roberto Clemente Award. He is now a baseball analyst for the YES Network. He is one athlete renowned for his charity, having given more than $1.5 million since 1996 to various children-related charities in the New York area and in south Florida.

An incredibly moving speech was given by Ron Iervolino, president of CCBF, that had many of us in tears. His own child suffered from cancer, and he appreciates the generosity of the audience and of the celebrities in helping to fund research for a cure. Ron presented me with my award, and again, I was humbled to accept.

It was truly an honor to be included among such amazing people. We often hear so many bad things about celebrities; it was refreshing to be reminded that so many of them work quietly and generously. I thank the CCBF for honoring them. I had a warm handshake from NFL great Tiki Barber, and then took the podium to thank the many people involved in this evening.

I accepted the award, not for what I have done, which by my standards hasn’t been much yet, but as a pledge for what I will do. I promised the audience that this evening, on my 51st birthday, I would enter the second half of my life completely dedicated to Save One Life, which will become the voice of individual patients with hemophilia, impoverished and suffering. I pledged that I would not rest, or retire, and would work until my last breath to alleviate the suffering of children in the Third World with hemophilia.

While standing for photos with the honorees, I must comment on how friendly, down-to-earth and kind they each were. I wish we could give more attention to celebrities like these who do such outstanding work for children who suffer. Ron and I both know: nothing is worse than watching your child suffer. And nothing is as amazing as seeing strangers help and care.

So how did this all happen? How did I end up having this photo with three such handsome celebrities? I have to thank Tara Reddi first and foremost. Vice president of the Marlborough Art Gallery in NYC, her cousin’s son, Bahnu, has hemophilia and lives in India in Vijiawada. He happened to be registered as a beneficiary of Save One Life. When Tara learned this, she decided to learn more about Save One Life. She was so touched that we were helping children like her cousin’s son, and offered to help us. Soon, she became a board member, and soon after, she had a fundraiser for us at her Gallery. Dr. Donna DiMichele attended that event, was surprised to learn about Save One Life (Donna and I have known each other for years, but we’ve been quiet about Save One Life till now) and suggested my name as honoree for tonight. So thank you, Tara and Donna! You have helped our small organization grow in so many ways.

I’d also like to thank Les Lieberman, chair of CCBF, for allowing me this great honor. And to the many corporations who donated to CCBF on behalf of me: Bayer Corporation (Terry, Paul, Marianne, Bill, Joe), Baxter BioScience (John, Michelle, Pete–so sorry the snowstorm kept you away!), and Grifols (Ray, Eva, Virginia, Kathy and Chris). Thanks also to attendee Neil Herson, president of ASD Healthcare, who sponsors 46 children through Save One Life, and to Patrick M. Schmidt, CEO of FFF Enterprises and Save One Life board member, who also sponsors 46 children, but could not attend. Thanks to those who donated but could not attend: CSL Behring, Ellis Sulser of Factor Support Network; Barbara Chang of National Cornerstone Healthcare; Shari Bender, mother of a child with hemophilia; and Eric Hill, president of Biolife.

You all made the evening very special, and given us all new motivation to ensure the vision of Save One Life is fulfilled–that every child in poverty with hemophilia will have a sponsor, someone who cares. No one, no child, should have to suffer alone or suffer at all. Thank you and God bless you who work on behalf of ill children.

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