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Women’s health to benefit from annual Rice Health Foundation holiday gala

Jean Raatz, left, and Jean Geselius work on the centerpiece decorations Friday for the upcoming Gatsby-themed Rice Health Foundation gala. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 to buy a portable X-ray system for tumor imaging during breast cancer surgery. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — Raising money for imaging technology that streamlines the surgery process for breast cancer is the goal of the Rice Health Foundation’s annual holiday gala this weekend.

The event on Friday and Saturday is the foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 to buy a portable X-ray system for tumor imaging during breast cancer surgery.

More than this, it’s a chance for the public to support programs and services that enhance care at Rice Memorial Hospital, said Jean Raatz, development manager of the Rice Health Foundation and chairman of the 2013 holiday gala.

“It’s important to have not just a health care facility but a high-quality health care facility,” she said.

A contribution from the Pierce Family Foundation is underwriting the entire cost of the event, allowing all the proceeds to be invested in buying the Faxitron technology. “That’s really going to help us achieve our goal,” Raatz said.

The 450 tickets for the Friday night dinner and auction are already sold out. Another 500 or so people are expected to attend a table setting fair, holiday vendor displays and lunch on Saturday.

Organizers this year are drawing inspiration from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, “The Great Gatsby,” to re-create the glamour and intrigue of the 1920s, complete with a vintage Pierce-Arrow automobile on loan for the event.

Steering committee members reviewed a list of potential projects before choosing women’s health as the beneficiary of the funds that will be raised from the two-day event.

“It was something the committee could really relate to,” Raatz said. “When we presented it to the committee, they were very excited about the project.”

Earlier detection of breast cancer via mammography has meant that many more tumors are being found while they’re small, giving more women the option of a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and preserve as much of the breast as possible, said Dr. Steven Kidd, a surgeon at Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

“The best chance a woman has of being cured of breast cancer is surgery, and by doing it early,” he said.

Imaging with the new Faxitron machine will help give surgeons a better view of the tumor’s size and location and increase the precision of the surgery, Kidd said. “As a surgeon I know I’ve got the margins right away. I know whether I need to take a little more or start closing. … We’re going to know right away that we’ve got the information we need to finish the case.”

It also will allow for much quicker review by a radiologist, speeding up the surgery with less time for the patient under anesthesia and less time for families in the waiting room.

The addition of the Faxitron comes with no additional cost to patients or to the hospital, Kidd said. “The patient is the one who benefits. The surgeon is going to benefit because we can do our job better. It’s going to benefit the system all the way around.”

Use of the Faxitron technology will start this winter, after the new machine arrives. Breast cancer is far and away the most common cancer diagnosed among women in west central Minnesota, accounting for about 200 surgeries a year at Rice Hospital.

In previous years, money raised at the Rice Health Foundation’s annual holiday gala has gone to projects such as cardiac care technology for the Willmar Ambulance Service, high-tech hospital beds and enhancements to the hospital’s dialysis unit.

Fundraising by the foundation helps the hospital meet many key capital needs, Raatz said. “If we want it now, we need the foundation’s help.”

Volunteers have been working for months to line up sponsors, auction items and the many props that will be used to create a Gatsby-esque mood.

Interest in “The Great Gatsby” has been renewed since the release earlier this year of a new movie version of the novel. But there’s a local connection as well. Fitzgerald scholars and fans have speculated that the Jay Gatsby character was modeled after Cushman Rice, the founder of Rice Hospital.

Local attorney LeeAnn Clayton first pointed out the similarities to Dan Hardy, a colleague and attorney in St. Paul who was writing a biography of Cushman Rice. Clayton’s most compelling argument was a quote she had found in a 1934 letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald to a fan, John Jamieson. In the letter, Fitzgerald said he had created Gatsby, “perhaps on the image of some forgotten farm type of Minnesota that I have known and forgotten, and associated at the same moment with some sense of romance.”

Raatz said “lots of creativity” goes into organizing the gala. “We have a budget and we stick to that budget very carefully,” she said. “It’s fun. The community has come to see this event as a very glamorous event. It’s something people look forward to.”

Ticket Info

Tickets for the Friday night gala at the Willmar Conference Center are sold out.

Tickets are still available for the Saturday table setting review and luncheon from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the conference center. Tickets are $15 in advance for the review and luncheon and $18 at the door. The cost for the review only is $6.

Today is the last day to order tickets online in advance at Advance tickets also can be purchased at the Rice Memorial Hospital gift shop or the Rice Health Foundation office at Rice Hospital through Thursday.

Direct donations to support the event may be made online at

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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