Helping People

Hospital volunteers raise millions for medical needs

Miami Herald Staff

In South Florida, volunteer fundraising for hospitals is a serious, multimillion-dollar endeavor.

Take the Pap Corps, a 21,000-member organization, which in May handed the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center a check for $4.5million to fund research and hire faculty.

The volunteer-based Guardian Angels is expected to raise more than $3million this year as part of Jackson Health Foundation; the money will help renovate Holtz Children’s Hospital’s hemotology/oncology unit.

And Baptist Health Foundation’s volunteer funding pays for life-saving equipment at Baptist Health South Florida’s seven hospitals. Among the pieces of equipment: A complex system at the hospitals’ intensive care units, which allows the monitoring of patients’ vital signs on-site as well as off-site by a team of intensive care physicians.

“The amazing thing is that this has cut mortality by 46 percent at Baptist Hospital,” said Bill Wilson, chairman of Baptist Health Foundation. “And it was essentially funded through philanthropy.”

Such charitable groups’ monetary goals are rising each year, particularly as government funding and insurance reimbursements become more challenging, leaders say.

Considered the largest volunteer-based hospital fundraising group in the nation, the Pap Corps’ philanthropic efforts date back to 1952 when Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou came to Miami. Papanikolaou, the inventor of the Pap smear to detect cervical and other cancers, expressed a need for funding. A group of five local women raised money, said JoAnne Goldberg, Pap Corps’ president.

Today, the Pap Corps has 53 chapters from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties. All of its funds go to Sylvester — to treat cancer of all kinds.

“We have very dedicated volunteers who are very passionate about raising the funds for the doctors so that one day — and this is our mission — we will have a world without cancer,” Goldberg said. “ Without the funds, it cannot happen.”

To raise funds, the Deerfield Beach-based Pap Corps holds fundraising events throughout the year, including golf tournaments, luncheons and fashion shows. Most recently, the group held a fashion show in which cancer survivors strutted down the runway at Bloomingdale’s in the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton.

Such events have led the Pap Corps to boost its fundraising to $4.5million this year, up from $3.6million last year, said Goldberg, president since 2012.

“Pap Corps has made a huge difference in the lives of people with cancer or who are worried about cancer, in South Florida and beyond,” said Dr. Stephen Nimer, director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

Florida has the second highest incidence of cancer in the United States after California, said Nimer, a hemotologist/oncologist. All the funds raised by the Pap Corps are used for cancer research, to recruit faculty and fulfill programs.

Among the research programs that have benefited from Paps Corps’ funds: prostrate cancer treatment that involves specific new radiation therapy; vaccine trials for children with brain tumors and with other forms of cancer; targeted therapy for sarcoma; and research for a new lymphoma drug called brentuximab.

This year, for the first time, funds also were used to set up an endowed professorship for Dr. Ronan Swords. The money will fund research in leukemia at Sylvester, which is one of the few centers in the world to test a new oral medication for leukemia that has so far proven highly effective, Nimer said.

Similarly, the Guardian Angels raise money that goes toward various projects at Jackson Health System’s Holtz Children’s Hospital. Among those is fetal imaging equipment that allows doctors to perform surgery on fetuses in the womb. Over the years, Guardian Angel funding has also gone toward renovating the rooms where women go into labor, and providing lunch daily for children who are undergoing chemotherapy, and their mothers, said Silvia Rios Fortun, who has been president of the Guardian Angels since the group’s inception.

The volunteer group, which is part of the Jackson Health Foundation, was founded in 1998 by a group of 20 women who wanted to raise money for Holtz. Today the group has nearly 300 members, each of whom commit to pay at least $5,000, spread over five years, said Fortun, who is chairman of the Jackson Health Foundation’s board.

Members of another group, the Golden Angels, pledge $50,000 over five years to Jackson Health Foundation, and many of the Guardian Angels rise to become Golden Angels, Fortun said.

“I believe that you have to give back to the community where you live and it’s a really good feeling to know that you are making a difference in the lives of children,” she said. “When you go to the hospital and you see kids that are sick with cancer or other diseases and they are fighting for their lives, you realize that it’s so good that you can help them.”

Every fall the group holds a luncheon, and this year’s event, on Nov.18, is expected to raise $500,000, Fortun said. The luncheon will include a runway show of fashion from Roberto Cavalli’s collection, partly sponsored by Saks Fifth Avenue Dadeland, said Marisol Garcia, marketing and events director for the Jackson Health Foundation.

“The Guardian Angels are an important part of the foundation and the hospital because they are dedicated solely to raise funds to keep it updated and make it comfortable for the children and their families,” Garcia said.

Another dedicated group is the Baptist Health Foundation, whose mission is to raise funds to supplement Baptist Health South Florida’s capital and operating budgets. The foundation, which has a 140-member board, has paid for equipment found in every intensive care room in Baptist Health South Florida’s seven hospitals. The camera and monitoring system links patient monitors to a centralized location, so that blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other vital information can be viewed by a team of intensive care doctors 24/7, in addition to the on-site medical staff. Any problems will light up the computer screens and sound alarms at the central station. Cameras can be pointed toward the patient, even viewing their pupils from afar, which ensures that every patient receives extra watchful care, said Wilson, who is an entrepreneur and chairman of the Baptist Health Foundation.

Currently, Baptist has a multi-year, $100million fundraising campaign to expand the Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute. Among the fundraising events was a “Pulse of Innovation” luncheon hosted by South Florida entrepreneur Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, which raised $1million, including $300,000 at a live auction for a seat on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space plane. Branson offered the seat in appreciation of the Institute’s physicians, who performed a life-saving treatment for his wife, Lady Joan Branson, the foundation said.

Baptist Health Foundation’s most ambitious fundraising drive is aimed at the $430million Miami Cancer Institute, which is under construction. Within that, $100million will be for proton therapy, which Wilson said will make Baptist the only center in South Florida to offer the advanced technology. Proton therapy allows radiation to be beamed directly into a tumor, destroying the cancer cells, without damaging other tissue.

Both the expansion of the Miami Cardiac and Vascular Center and the new Miami Cancer Institute will be completed in 2016. For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the foundation raised $17million, Wilson said. Next year’s goal is to raise $30million, and the following year, $50million.

“The reason we all get involved is we are actually changing and saving lives,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, that is what is most important. It’s not about having money or the other things in life. If your family is healthy, that is what matters.”

For more information

Pap Corps: or 954-425-8100.

Guardian Angels of Jackson Health Foundation: 305-585-GIVE (4483).

Baptist Health Foundation: 786-467-5400