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Noche de Gala presents Azul

As a parent, bringing your sick or injured child to the emergency room is often times a very long and dreaded trip to the hospital. But as a child, walking into the Shands Hospital for Children at the University of Florida is less like a trip to the doctor and more like an underwater adventure.

As you enter the lobby, dolphins greet you at your feet, leading you to a corner of the room with a mural of even more dolphins flying in the air over the open sea. As you sit in the Red Fish waiting room, you look over to your left and see a wall of massive aquariums filled with fish of all different colors and sizes, idly swimming through coral reefs and rocky terrains. While you’re waiting for a nurse to call your child’s name, she sits on the floor, distracted with the many toys and books stocked for patients. Just watching your sick child peacefully calm makes you feel less anxious and more at home.

The Bright hues of dark and light blue reflect off the floors and walls that pave the way into the new pediatric emergency room—making this year’s Noche de Gala theme Azul, which means blue in Spanish, entirely fitting. The Sebastian Ferrero Foundation donated $500,000 to help create this aquatic-themed lobby, with hopes to raise even more funds at this year’s water-inspired event.

Within the past year, Shands Hospital for Children has made incredible leaps in its mission to provide quality health care services for children both statewide and nationwide. In July 2011, it opened its pediatric ER, which has already served more than 19,000 patients since July of this year. It is now ranked nationally by the U.S. News and World Report in seven of its pediatric specialties, including endocrinology and cardiology.

This $130-million project may not have been possible without the galvanized support from the community, especially the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, which continues to pursue its mission of improving patient safety and raising funds and awareness for the children’s hospital. 

The foundation will be hosting its fifth annual Noche de Gala event  Sept. 29 at the Besilu Collection in Micanopy. Known as the home of the Champion Paso Fino horses, the 642-acre estate is the perfect place for the various types of entertainment. The event will include a horse show, live cigar rolling and performances from Las Vegas illusionist Simon Winthrop and America’s Got Talent finalist, Team iLuminate.

“The entertainment is going to blow people away,” said Keith Watson, owner and president of Keith Watson Productions. “We’re making sure that we’re creating an event that appeals to all of our guests, as well as producing an event of the highest quality.”

Raising more than $1 million for last year’s Noche de Gala event, the gala’s planning team has its work cut out for them. As in previous galas, this one will also have a silent auction packed with gift baskets and cross-country getaway trips, autographed musical and sports memorabilia, original artwork from local Gainesville artists and gift cards and jewelry from local businesses. With the event’s huge success last year, planning the gala was a bit challenging without the help of his team, Watson said.

“We could not do this without the support of all our fellow sponsors, as well as the volunteer force that we have to accomplish the goals of this event,” he said. “Every year, we strive to raise the bar.”

Proceeds from this year’s event will help fund further additions to the hospital, including a two-story atrium and lobby, along with exterior changes that will give the hospital its own identity and presence as a children’s hospital.

“When children and families come in, they’re very anxious and fearful of a meaning of a symptom they might have,” said Dr. David Guzick, who is the senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF& Shands Health System. “It’s important to reduce their anxiety and make them feel welcome and assure them of accurately fixing the problem.”

Since launching the foundation in 2008, Horst and Luisa Ferrero wanted to provide a facility that would protect and ensure children’s health that was designed to meet their specific needs. The inspiration came from their son, Sebastian, who was 3 years old when he died in October of 2007 at Shands. During a routine checkup, he suffered a series of preventable medical errors, including a medication overdose. Their ability to turn their loss into something positive has inspired many in the community.

“It’s an amazing experience to see that this facility is so inviting for children. We are all benefiting from all the great work that started with a couple that lost a child,” said Linda Michalisin, vice president of public relations at Frankel Media Group and spokesperson for the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation. “It’s making a difference every day for children at Shands.”

Their story has inspired many others on the state and national level. In fact, Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson continue to serve as this year’s honorary chair for the event. Supporters also include UF president Bernie Machen and his wife Chris Machen.

“My wife Chris and I are honored to co-chair the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation’s fifth annual Noche de Gala,” said President Machen in a recent statement to fellow supporters. “This is truly a great event, and we are thrilled to be part of a cause that places children at the forefront.”

Thankful for the steadfast support they have received, the Ferreros continued to use what they’ve learned since launching the foundation to further improve patient care at Shands Hospital for Children at UF.

“We learned that children are not just little adults. They are unique and require specialized care in an integrated environment designed for them and their families,” said Horst and Luisa Ferrero. “We also learned that medical errors are unfortunately much more common than people realize. We believe patient safety is everybody’s responsibility, and as adults, we must speak up for our children.”

For more information on this year’s Noche de Gala and how you can help, go online to www.nochedegala.org, or contact Linda Michalisin at 352-331-5558.

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