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Washington Hospital Center Marks 50 Years of Service
Diplomatic Pouch / June 5, 2008

Glitz and glamour along with a big helping of nostalgia were on hand May 31 as 1,100 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of Washington Hospital Center

Glitz and glamour along with a big helping of nostalgia were on hand May 31 as 1,100 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of Washington Hospital Center.

Attendees paid $750 per plate to enjoy dinner and one-hour concert by five-time Grammy winner Dionne Warwick. Combined with extra donations pledged throughout the evening, the fundraiser generated $2.1 million for WHC, the largest private, not-for-profit hospital in the nation's capital.

WHC President James Caldas publicly thanked co-chairs Greg and Candy Fazakerley for organizing the extravaganza, held at the National Building Museum.

"In the past 18 months, we have received three separate $1 million gifts, helping us to move closer to our goal of building the hospital of the 21st century," Caldas announced as donors enjoyed their filet of angus beef served on a bed of leek and caramelized pearl onions, truffled Yukon gold layered potato timbale, green asparagus and golden roasted beets. "We intend to continue doing great things for our patients for the next 50 years."

Founded on a cold winter day in March 1958, WHC came to life after years of disenchantment with the poor quality of health care in the nation's capital. In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Hospital Center Act, which paved the way for three aging medical facilities the Central Dispensary Hospital, Garfield Memorial Hospital and the Episcopal Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital to merge into one new institution.

The long-defunct Washington Star, greeting the hospital's opening with enthusiasm, had this to say: "Three historic institutions will shed their worn-out garb and emerge as one, dressed in shining apparel that only modern building and science can design."

WHC has since grown into a 926-bed acute care teaching and research hospital, and the flagship facility for MedStar Health. It also ranks among the 25 largest hospitals in the mid-Atlantic.

WHC employs over 6,000 people and occupies a 47-acre campus in northwest Washington. Among other things, it boasts the region's only adult burn center, one of the country's top shock-trauma treatment facilities and the Washington Cancer Institute, the largest cancer program in the district. In 1987, WHC surgeons performed the area's first heart transplant. And since 1994, the Washington Hospital Center has operated an Infectious Diseases Clinic providing care to people living with HIV/AIDS.

"You are here tonight because you recognize the importance of our mission of delivering exceptional patient-first health care in the nation's capital," Caldas told donors. "We have important work ahead of us, and I look forward to achieving great progress together."

According to a video shown during the event, 2,000 people depend on WHC for health care every day, and in 2007, the hospital saw 450,000 patients. Last year, 50 hospitals sent 6,300 of their most complex cases to WHC, which bills itself in the video as "the most important hospital in the most important city in the most important country in the world."

The golden gala, emceed by WJLA-TV's Leon Harris, featured testimonies from patients, including opera diva Marquita Lister, whose life was saved by specialists at Washington Hospital Center after she suffered from multiple organ failure.

In fact, each of the place settings at the event's 119 tables was adorned with an appeal from a patient whose life was saved by WHC doctors. Among the 10 patients featured in the appeals is former Navy lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer, who was transported to the hospital's burn center following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

The fundraiser attracted several local bigshots including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Maryland's attorney-general, Doug Gansler. Of course, the real celebrity was Dionne Warwick, who performed many of her standard hits from the 1960s and 1970s, including "Walk On By," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

WHC's selection of Warwick as the evening's main attraction was most fitting.

The entertainer, who at 67 appears every bit as energetic as she did 30 years ago, has helped galvanize the music industry in the fight against AIDS. Her Grammy-winning single, "That's What Friends Are For," led the way by raising millions of dollars for AIDS research. Throughout the 1980s, Warwick devoted much of her time to a wide range of humanitarian causes, and in October 2002, she was named a global ambassador for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

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