by Grace Sarber
The Women’s Board is close to my heart. Its creation was a labor of love that has been borne on the shoulders of many women through the past 43 years and has passed the test of time.
When I was almost five years old, my mother gave birth to twin girls, Annie and Abbie. They were two and a half months premature, which was life-threatening at that time. Abbie lived only eight days because Wolfson did not have the equipment necessary to support her tiny body.
When she died, Annie went into cardiac arrest, but because she was the surviving twin, the doctors could focus all their attention on her. She was revived and sent to Shands in Gainesville in an incubator in the back of my parents’ station wagon, where she spent the next five months before coming home. Abbie’s death and Annie’s miraculous survival had a significant impact on my life, as well as the life of my whole family.
As a result, my grandmother, Ellen Cavert, spurred not by revenge but by a heartfelt desire that this would not happen to another family, gathered together 40 of her friends and started The Women’s Board, an organization dedicated to improving awareness and raising funds for Wolfson. Since that time, we have grown from 41 to 400 women and have raised more than $28 million for Wolfson Children’s Hospital. The example my grandmother set, one of incredible vision, clear purpose and depth of heart, serves continually as our inspiration.
I have been privileged to serve with The Women’s Board most of my life and am in my third year as president. An even greater privilege: My 96-year- old grandmother still advises me regularly and accompanies me on occasion.
Why Wolfson Children’s Hospital? Wolfson is now one of the best pediatric facilities in the world, bringing in patients from all over the globe. It is the only children’s hospital between Orlando and Atlanta with many specialty centers and programs. In the last three years it has opened satellite centers in Daytona, Lake City, Clay County, Brunswick and its newest in Tallahassee, which will reach far into Georgia and Alabama to currently underserved children.
But the best thing about Wolfson is, though it is a private hospital, no child is ever turned away, regardless of ability to pay. That means Wolfson gives away more than $36 million annually in uncompensated and charity care, making The Women’s Board’s support more vital than ever (we raised more than $2 million in 2015), particularly with the recent huge changes in the health care system. Wolfson therefore relies on The Women’s Board to fund programs and equipment that otherwise would be far more difficult.
Currently we are in year four of a five-year, $4 million commitment to the Pediatric Surgery Center of Distinction, a program that will enable a highly skilled surgical staff to work on advancing surgical techniques, expand the use of minimally invasive and robotic surgery and help the hospital meet the needs of pediatric trauma patients. In addition, we contribute funds for other vital hospital programs and clinical equipment needs. For instance, recently we gave $200,000 for eight neonatal “giraffe” beds that serve as the womb outside the womb for the tiniest of babies, and we funded our second Kids Kare ambulance, specifically equipped for small bodies. Both of these were poignant gifts to me because they directly related to the birth of my sisters. We also have recently given $284,000 for a new lifesaving ECMO machine, as well as approximately $70,000 for pediatric pacemakers and $23,000 for special neonatal transport carts.
Furthermore, through an amazing matching gift program, Baptist is able to match a significant portion of our donations at 150 percent. And the majority of our donations go straight to the children. We have a long and deep commitment to stewardship. We are volunteer-driven, and we secure the majority of what we need for our events through in-kind donations, directing cash donations to programs and facilities that directly touch the children.
The Women’s Board, thanks to hundreds of women in the Jacksonville area who have carried forward this mission birthed 43 years ago by a true visionary, continues to touch and to change thousands of precious young lives. What a privilege to be a part of it.