Eversight Illinois Gala was "Love at First Sight"

Eversight Illinois, a non-profit dedicated to restoring sight and preventing blindness through the healing power of donation, transplantation and research, celebrated the 18th Annual Gift of Sight Gala at The Peninsula Chicago on June 23. The special evening honored Dr. Marian Macsai as the “Gift of Sight” honoree and yours truly as the 2016 “Woman of Vision."

The Parisian-themed gala, “Love at First Sight,” was emceed by ABC-7’s Linda Yu and co-chaired by Dr. David Donnersberger and Eileen Howard-Weinberg. Brilliant decor by Michael Caputo and Mary Ann Rose's Tamar Productions brought the Parisian theme to life, complete with a mime who greeted guests. The Stanley Paul Orchestra performed brilliantly, as always.

Over 300 of Chicago's fashionable notables packed the Peninsula for a cocktail reception followed by dinner, dancing, an exclusive silent and live auction, all while taking in the beautiful views of downtown Chicago from the Grand Ballroom and Shanghai Terrace.

Guests heard inspiring stories about those directly affected by Eversight Illinois. Elyse Natalino met with Dr. Macsai when she was 18 for an ulcer that covered most of her left cornea. Together, they decided that she should undergo a full corneal transplant and today, she can see 20/20 with her glasses. She said, "Dr. Macsai doesn't just care about her patients' eyes, she also cares about our lives." Elyse now works for the doctor as one of her ophthalmic technicians.

Others in the audience with vision problems were asked to stand and included Keeley Kossof, who became blind following the birth of her son, and my longtime friend Eddie Howlett who lost vision in one eye after a freak accident playing with his kids. Nancy Behles has been through many corneal transplants and now has the vision to continue her life's passion of painting thanks to Eversight Illinois.

It was such a privilege to be included with fellow honoree Dr. Marian Macsai. A brilliant retrospective montage and speech was delivered by last year's "Gift of Sight" honoree Dr. Jonathan Rubenstein on behalf of the doctor. He spoke about her leadership in the eye banking community with more than 30 years of experience. Dr. Macsai is the Chief of Division of Ophthalmology for North Shore University Health System, and Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. In addition, she serves as President of the Cornea Society and an Honorary Member of the Eye Bank Association of America Board of Directors. Whew!

My heart was so grateful to see the audience filled with so many wonderful, supportive friends like those who spoke on my behalf. Mary Pat Burns' speech brought tears to my eyes as she stood onstage with my "girl squad", Sharyl Mackey, Sheila O'Grady and Jean Antoniou (Tracey Tarantino, Dr. Stacie McClane and Sheryl Dyer didn't appear onstage due to space constraints but are most definitely "squad members").  At the end of Mary Pat's speech and on her cue, friends in the audience stood and held up masks that featured my Playboy "Eyes" cover. (omg)  In another touching moment, longtime friends Helen Melchior and Leslie Hindman made me tear up again during their thoughtful comments. A wonderful video montage created by Kurtis Productions (Donna LaPietra and Josh Bowen) preceded the speeches. Last year's "Woman of Vision" honoree, Susan Gohl, presented me with my award, well sort of. She actually forgot after she introduced me so my friend/photog Mila Samokhina actually presented me with the beautiful crystal award. LOL!

I'm so thankful to Eversight Illinois for this great honor and for all the good they do in this community and globally. In 2015 alone, the organization facilitated more than 2,500 sight-restoring corneal transplants worldwide. All proceeds from the event, over $150,000, will directly support the programs and services of the deserving, sight-restoring non-profit.

"We are driven to maximize the amazing gift of eye tissue donation for transplantation and research. To see how the healing power of a donation affects a donor family is so powerful. It provides them something positive out of their tragic loss. These realities are what drives us 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to maximize the gift in which we are entrusted," shared Diane Hollingsworth, Eversight Illinois' dynamic executive director.

The gala was founded 18 years ago by Beverly Blettner. "Her dedication lives on through the advancement and mission of Eversight Illinois. We would not be here without her devotion," said co-chair Eileen Howard-Weinberg.

There are so many people to thank--all the guests/friends who allowed me to torment them with multiple invites and donation requests, the generous sponsors and donors, those who couldn't attend but kindly donated, Greg Hyder and Maria Zec who made Peninsula magic happen, the Gala Wizard Kevin Sullivan and the Eversight Illinois staffers Brittany Wright and Soni Sinha.

It was a night I will never, ever forget. Ever. Never. (Fab photos by Mila Samokhina)

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