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Volume 15, Issue 22  | March 17, 2023Subscribe

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The Life Savers Foundation of Orange County raises nearly $400,000 to benefit living organ donors

The Grand Ballroom of the Balboa Bay Resort came to life on Thursday evening (January 19), as some 300 guests arrived at 6 p.m. for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for the inaugural evening, celebrating the founding of a new nonprofit in Southern California – The Life Savers Foundation. Five years in the development process, the foundation began in 2017 when Laguna Beach businesswoman Heidi Miller stepped forward to donate a life-saving kidney to Newport Beach Daily Pilot/LA Times columnist and author Bruce Cook. Cook also serves as editor of the Bay Window magazine published by the Pickup-Martin ownership of Balboa Bay Club.

Carole Pickup (foundation founding chair) was the first to discover Cook suffered from serious kidney disease in 2015 and began a campaign to find a donor for him. Her effort culminated in the first donor awareness event in May 2017 with some 500 guests arriving at the same ballroom to help find a donor for Cook. 

The Life Savers Martin trio

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Photo by Tony Lattimore

(L-R) The Life Savers Foundation Founding Chair Carole Pickup with kidney donor Heidi Miller, a resident of Laguna Beach

No one stepped forward. Word of mouth of the successful event spread. Miller, who did not attend, and did not know Cook, stepped forward. On November 17, 2017, Miller and Cook became related literally as a transplant was performed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, saving Cook’s life.

Five years of planning delayed by 2 1/2 years of pandemic stalls delivered a spectacular launch party, no formal invitations, just word-of-mouth and a small amount of pre-press, and a generous community came together raising an astonishing sum for an unknown start-up nonprofit.

The Life Savers Martin trio

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

(L-R) Devon and Kevin Martin (International Bay Clubs’ president) with Pastor Jason Smith

The Life Savers committee

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Photo by Tony Lattimore

Ladies of the committee supporting The Life Savers Foundation

The Life Savers Smith family

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Photo by Tony Lattimore

The Smith family shared the gift of the daughter’s kidney to her father

A post-cocktail reception was held in the hotel ballroom foyer. Doors opened to reveal a magical, comfortable setting of all white tables, surrounding a glass dance floor underlit with changing colors of the Life Savers rainbow, fronting a stage occupied by the Jerry Mandel Irvine Barclay Theatre Jazz Band. A restaurant-quality dinner began with shrimp cocktail iced in martini glasses, beef tenderloin, fettucine Alfredo and a curated gourmet vegetable salad, to the delight of attendees. 

Tributes and speeches followed dinner. Guest of honor and co-founder of the nonprofit, Heidi Miller, mesmerized the audience with her story. More importantly, her work over the last five years helping to facilitate donor transplants for some 30 patients in need called for applause. One story in particular focused on the kidney donation by former Chapman University President Dr. James Doti, who inspired by Miller’s journey, donated his kidney altruistically at UCI which saved a stranger’s life in Santa Ana. Doti addressed the evening via a heartfelt video. Also sharing their journey was Tom Johnson, publisher of Stu News, who was saved with a kidney donation from his brother and the Smith family whose daughter donated to save her father. The crowd was moved. Several individuals stood up when Miller asked if anyone in the audience needed an organ.

The Lifesavers Makena and Carole

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

(L-R) Makena Martin and Carole Pickup

The Life Savers Wing and Heidi

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

Wing Lam and Heidi Miller

The Life Savers Mardo and Seyda

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

Mardo and Seyda Ayvazyan

An “ASK” followed, led by Master of Ceremonies John Wortmann, chairman of the board of governors of Balboa Bay Club, joining Devon Martin, daughter of Carole Pickup and wife of International Bay Clubs’ President Kevin Martin. Donor paddles raised continuously across the ballroom as people stood up offering major gifts.

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With the “ASK” ending, the evening transitioned into a concert with dancing under the direction of the Mandel Band with vocals by Cook. Perhaps the best news came from Miller after the final song was delivered, “Smile,” a special request from Chair Carole Pickup. “Three people have come up to me tonight to offer a potential kidney donation to someone in need,” she joyfully shared.

The Life Savers Jerry Johnson six

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

(L-R) Jerry Johnson, Dave and Marilyn Wooten, Anne and John Huffman along with Robin Shelton

The Life Savers Kruger and McCormick

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Photo by Chris Darnall 

(L-R) Susan Kruger and Alison McCormick

In the generous crowd were O.C. Supervisor Katrina Foley, Mayor of Costa Mesa John Stephens, Kathy and Noel Hamilton, Anne and John Wortmann, Pamela Selber, Sandy and Richard Haskell, Amy Teresi, Aaron Ritter, Morgan Golceker, Michael Brant-Zawadzki, Camille and Mathew Reed, Tracy and Rick Weiner, Joe Moody with Caroline Davenport and Dana Dowers.

Also front and center were Riviera Magazine Publisher Christopher Gialanella, South Coast Plaza’s Lee Healy, Lana Sills, Firebrand Media’s Steve Zepezaur and Tracy Powell, Leslie Cancellieri, attorney Alex Chazen and blogger-influencer Sabrina Chazen, Sharon and Gary Grimes, Bob Jacob, Jean and Bill Mauerhan, Alison and Kimo McCormick, Diane Modini, celeb Chef Jamie Gwen, Patti and Bill O’Desky, Balboa Island Museum founder Shirley Pepys, Mimi and Nelson Holdo, Penny Pralle, Catherine Thyen, Marilyn and Dave Wooten and Richard Pickup.

Dr. John Huffman, paster-emeritus of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, served as executive consultant, delivering heartfelt opening and closing remarks filled with purpose, passion and promise.

To learn more about Life Savers Foundation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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