Rancho Santa Fe Auxiliary Gala puts Rady Children’s Hospital in the spotlight


Rady Children’s Hospital will be the star of the show at the Rancho Santa Fe Unit of Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary’s Broadway Nights Gala on Saturday, April 23 at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar.

VIP tables have already sold out but tickets are still available for a formal night out in black ties and ball gowns, serenaded by Broadway showstoppers, all to support the children.

For the second year in a row, Jere and Joyce Oren of Rancho Santa Fe are the title sponsors of the event, generously contributing $150,000 to the cause.

Rancho Santa Fe residents Shaunna Kahn and Sandra den Ujil are serving as the chairs of this year’s event. Both women joined the unit in 2009 and for the past five years have traded off chairing the Gala events solo — this year they combined their talents and skills to put on Broadway Nights as partners.

The pair are extremely passionate and committed about their work for Rady.

“We never let that piece of us stay home,” den Ujil said, noting she never misses an opportunity to talk about the great work the hospital does and seek support and donations.

The unit ended their comedy-theme galas two years ago and paired with production company Imagine Entertainment to launch their “Nights” gala series. They have done Bohemian Nights, Circus Nights, and in 2017 will do Mystic Nights, a destination gala which will be held in Puerto Vallarta.

This year’s gala will feature eight-minute performances from five Broadway productions, staged by professional actors and performers. At the start of the gala, the cast for “Phantom of the Opera” will escort guests from the silent auction area into the “beautiful” Capella sanctuary for the first performance — there won’t be the famous falling chandelier but den Ujil promises plenty of candelabras.

The cast of “The Lion King” will take over for a performance before guests sit down for an elegant dinner in the Elizabeth Ballroom. A performance from “Wicked” will lead into the live auction and there will be a capsule from “Les Misérables” before the “raise the paddle” donations, followed by a fun and upbeat closing performance from “Jersey Boys.”

After the event, the Happily Ever After after-party will feature DJ music, dancing and late night sliders and fries.

Every gala features what the unit calls their “Heartstrings” video, focusing on stories of real patients at Rady’s. Many are success stories but some are not — both women tear up when recalling a young patient featured in last year’s video, who passed away shortly before the gala. The 14-year-old was waiting for a heart transplant and died 15 days prior to the first heart transplant at Rady in February.

Sandra’s son Edgar den Ujil and editor Sam Yago created this year’s Heartstrings video, which promises to be as touching as ever and highly effective in encouraging guests to raise their paddles.

While there are auxiliary units all over San Diego County, Rancho Santa Fe’s is the oldest, founded in 1959, two years prior to the hospital breaking ground. Each unit fundraises for a different part of the hospital and will also combine efforts for larger hospital needs and goals.

This is the third year that the Rancho Santa Fe Unit’s gala will raise funds for the Sam S. and Rose Stein Emergency Care Center at Rady. They have pledged $1 million to help the emergency room build a fully suited resuscitation room for young trauma patients for whom seconds mean the difference between life and death.

“We’re aiming to fulfill that $1 million pledge this year,” Kahn said.

The Rancho Santa Fe Unit selected the emergency department as its target beneficiary as it is one of the oldest parts of the hospital and it is undergoing a time of great change. Dr. Keri Carstairs, medical director of the ER department, revamped the way that Rady triages patients and it is now considered among the top five ERs in the country. Where they used to have a 7 percent instance of patients leaving without being seen due to long wait times, that number is now down to 1 percent.

“Dr. Carstairs is leading a whole movement at Rady to revamp and make the emergency department one of their centers of excellence,” Kahn said. “We’re really excited about supporting it.”

“In the years I’ve been involved at Rady, the growth of what they do has just been leaps and bounds,” den Ujil said.

In addition to the heart transplant program, which keeps patients from having to travel to the East Coast for care, there is the proton therapy program with Scripps and now the hospital plans to become a pioneer in pediatric genomics.

In 2014, the Ernest Rady family donated $120 million toward the establishment of the Rady Pediatric Genomics and Systems Medicine Institute. In light of this contribution, all of the San Diego County auxiliary units have made a pledge to raise $2.5 million to endow leading pediatric genomics researcher Dr. Stephen Kingsmore’s work.

Kingsmore developed the 50-hour genome, a process by which doctors are able to decode and interpret a newborn baby’s genome in just two days. Kahn said the goal with this kind of “personalized medicine” is to accelerate the process even further and take a baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and do a full genome on both parents and the baby to discover genetically what medical issues are occurring with the child.

“Personalized medicine is what you need, not what everybody gets,” Kahn said. “It’s really impressive.”

Through genomics, den Ujil said it’s “mindblowing” what more data and what access to more data can make possible.

“Next year our fundraising will roll right into genomics. It fits in well with the community because a lot of leaders in the business of genomics are right here in San Diego, this is the genomics hub,” den Ujil said, noting companies such as Illumina and Thermo Fisher are both based in town.

After months and months of planning, both Kahn and den Ujil will be content to take a seat at the gala, let emcee Clint Bell take over and urge everyone to “please ignore” them and focus on the cause.

“We’re just happy when people come and support the kids,” Kahn said.

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