First published in the Sept. 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Icon Blue Founder Walter Hill and his wife Bonnie, who serves as the president of B. Hill Enterprises, stepped into the spotlight for the Minutes Matter More Than Ever campaign event last week.
Surrounded by more than 100 supporters of the campaign to raise funds to construct Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center’s new state-of-the-art emergency department and urgent care facility, the couple looked out at those who had gathered at the home of Donald and Elizabeth Savant.
“I’m pleased to be here this evening,” Walter said. “I’m actually pleased to be anywhere.”
Four years ago, while out for a run, Walter fell to the ground unconscious.
“After 74 years, my heart just stopped, and I don’t remember another thing, so I’ll have to turn it over to Bonnie to tell you what happened,” he said.
Bonnie explained that after suffering a massive heart attack, Walter was extremely lucky that a young man, who was also running, and had only taken one class in CPR, began administering aid to him.
“The paramedics brought him to Saint Joseph because they felt it was the medical center best suited to handle cardiac cases,” she said. “I was called and told to get to the hospital as fast as possible, and by the time I did, he had flat-lined two more times before they were finally able to resuscitate and stabilize him.”
The couple took a moment to look at one another and then out at the gathering.
“They believed that Walter’s brain had been deprived of oxygen for about six minutes,” Bonnie said. “That was when we learned an important lesson — that minutes matter.”
Walter went on to say that while he hoped no one ever has to go through such an ordeal, if they do, they will be very fortunate if, like him, they are taken to the emergency department at Saint Joe’s.
“I never thought that being in the hospital after almost dying would be something that would make me happy,” he said. “But I was happy to be alive, and the care I received made me even happier.”
Five years ago, the Providence Saint Joseph Foundation began the campaign to raise funds to replace the existing emergency department which was built in 1980 and now serves more than 68,000 people annually. The campaign’s goal was to raise $78 million that would be used to build facilities intended to improve triage services in order to reduce wait times, double the number of treatment rooms, which will include isolation rooms, and provide faster diagnostic information by the use of the latest communications technologies.
Today, with the project well under way and a completion date slated for the summer of 2022, the foundation is now less than $8 million away from realizing their goal.
Last week’s fundraiser, which was chaired by Paula Davis, included a lavish poolside reception prior to a performance by synchronized swimmers and a cabaret-style concert by actor and singer Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace” fame.
Among the numerous local notables in attendance were Terry Walker, who serves as the medical center’s director of neuroscience operations and his husband Patrick Flaherty; longtime supporters Vic and Sue Georgino and Brad and Nancy Korb; and foundation staff members Tina Johann, Debra King, Angela Khurdajian, Jamie Rugel, Xenia Cadenas, Diana Saa and Marcel Guerra.
Along with the Hill’s testimony, the assemblage also heard from the evening’s hostess, Elizabeth Savant, about how Saint Joe’s provided timely care for her daughter, who was in need of a medical procedure, and Ed and Murphy Romano, who have chaired the campaign since its inception.
Davis also recognized special attendees including Dr. Celina Barba-Simic, who serves as Saint Joe’s emergency department medical director; Debbie Buffham, the department’s executive director; and Dr. David Sato, a cardiology specialist who treated Walter Hill.
“These are our heroes,” said Davis as she introduced Barba-Simic, Buffam and Sato. “They are the ones who are on the front line every day. They are the ones who, throughout the pandemic, no matter how fatigued or frustrated they may have been, have risked their lives to care for others.”
Buffham expressed gratitude on behalf of the entire medical center and emergency department for those who attended last week’s event and generously helped in bringing the new facility to fruition.
“Every person who has supported this campaign will make it possible for us to offer the highest level of quality medical care we can provide,” Buffham said. “As we watch this new building come to fruition, we are extremely excited and take great pride in what we currently do, and the even higher level of care we will soon be able to offer. It is just so exciting, on a daily basis, to see this project transition from a dream, to a goal and a rendering, into being a reality.”
Last week’s event, likely to be the final major fundraiser as the campaign comes close to the finish line, raised more than $250,000 for this vital project that could benefit every Burbank resident as well as those from surrounding communities.
To learn more about the fundraising campaign, find out how to donate or take a tour of the emergency facilities and construction, call the Providence Saint Joseph Foundation at (818) 847-4673 or visit supportsaintjoseph.org.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.