A Night for Heroes celebrates 15 years

The TraumaOne Heroes Council and the late Leon L. Haley Jr. (center), M.D., MHSA, CPE, FACEP, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

Kate Strickland calls April 24, 2016, the “worst day” of her life. It’s also the “most wonderful,” considering the events that followed.

After falling in the bathroom, Strickland’s brother, Brian Lynn, was airlifted to UF Health Jacksonville in the middle of the night. Lynn underwent two brain surgeries over the next 48 hours, and Strickland says the odds of his survival were very low.

“He was clinging to life,” said Strickland, whose brother was in a coma for 11 days. “It went from being the grimmest outlook imaginable to being he was not only awake, but he remembered us and he could speak.

“I’m absolutely confident had he been anywhere else, he would not have survived.”

Her brother’s experience introduced Strickland to UF Health TraumaOne and A Night for Heroes. Lynn was the patient honoree for the annual black-tie gala in 2017. The event not only celebrated Lynn and his recovery but the physicians and caregivers who saved his life.

“I walked away sort of just gobsmacked that this was in our community right under our noses the whole time,” Strickland said. “You don’t know about your health and the trauma center until you need to know, and sometimes that’s too late.”

“We all know the trauma program was one of the best-kept secrets.”

Jean Tepas, wife of the late Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a professor of surgery and pediatrics at UF Health Jacksonville, is a founding member of the TraumaOne Heroes Council.

The year was 2006, and leaders at UF Health Jacksonville were brainstorming ideas to raise funds for UF Health TraumaOne ― established in 1983 as the first trauma program in the state of Florida.

Jean Tepas, the wife of the late Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a professor of surgery and pediatrics at UF Health Jacksonville, was approached about an event for TraumaOne. Tepas’ husband was the chair of the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville’s department of surgery and played an integral role in establishing the pediatric surgery and trauma programs at UF Health Jacksonville.

“I said, ‘I’ll be happy to do it,’” said Tepas, a founding member of the TraumaOne Heroes Council.

Tepas and supporters of other UF Health Jacksonville physicians formed the TraumaOne Heroes Council, which plans fundraising initiatives and the annual event.

“We saw how hard they worked, and the university is reaching out to us, in particular, to try to help raise funds and awareness,” Tepas said. “We all just rolled up our sleeves and got it done.”

Mardi Gras was the inaugural gala’s theme, and the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, now known as TIAA Bank Field, played host. Tepas said the TraumaOne Heroes Council was hoping for 250 to 300 attendees. Instead, the gala had a capacity crowd of 500 people and raised $58,000.

“We all know the trauma program was one of the best-kept secrets,” said Julia Paul, M.S.N., NP-C, UF Health Jacksonville’s trauma program manager and another founder of the TraumaOne Heroes Council. “It provided an opportunity for us to not only showcase our program but really broaden our outreach in the community.”

Strength in numbers

Russ Armistead, current CEO of UF Health Jacksonville (left), Beth McCague, member of the UF Health Jacksonville Board of Directors (center), and the late Leon L. Haley Jr. (right).

A Night for Heroes and UF Health TraumaOne has only grown since its inaugural gala. In recent years, the event has raised more than $250,000 annually, and attendance has surpassed 700 people. The funding has a great impact on supporting critically ill and injured patients, especially considering UF Health TraumaOne received official verification as the only adult and pediatric Level I trauma center in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia in 2018.

“Trauma has been a signature program for us for many years,” said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “I think it’s a pretty strong feeling within the community that if you need trauma care, you should come here.”

UF Health TraumaOne has trauma surgeons and specially trained support staff available 24/7. The program also has five resuscitation beds that allow for the immediate evaluation of severely injured patients.

“A Night for Heroes helps the trauma program gain valuable resources and equipment for care,” Paul said. “That’s important to me because each of those things provides an avenue for us to continue to expand and grow.”

Over the years, the gala has funded necessary items such as fluid warmers for the trauma center, portable ultrasounds and ventilators for the critical care helicopters and the purchase of the TraumaOne SUV, among other items. Most recently, A Night for Heroes supported the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program and the purchase of ventilators — both of which have been critical to caring for COVID-19 patients.

Many helped lead the gala’s growth, including the late Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA, CPE, FACEP, chief executive officer of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. Haley championed TraumaOne’s outreach within the community.

“Dr. Haley did a superb job at expanding our reach,” Armistead said. “He made this happen for the trauma center and, like the rest of the hospital, it’s a better place because of him.

“I can’t put into words how great of an impact he had.”

Paying it forward

A Night for Heroes will return to its original site, the east club at TIAA Bank Field, for its 15th anniversary on April 23, 2022.

The gala takes place one day shy of the sixth anniversary of Brain Lynn’s accident. Today, Lynn is back to full strength. He is a hard-working father and a happy husband.

Kate Strickland (left) served two years as gala co-chair, along with Tammy Kerwin (right).

After experiencing the moving celebration in 2017, Kate Strickland joined the TraumaOne Heroes Council as a volunteer and served as gala co-chair from 2019-2020. Over the years, the TraumaOne Heroes Council has expanded, and it now includes a collection of women who serve. Many, like Strickland, were inspired by personal experiences.

“I was so eager to give back and to help carry this forward,” Strickland said. “I know this from being part of the patient side of it. All you want to do is give back.”

Strickland says she has taken a great deal away from working with the founding members.

“They came together with this common goal and this common interest of supporting and giving back to the trauma center,” Strickland said. “It gives me a lot of peace knowing that people like them are out there and supporting this cause.”

The founding members of the council remain close to this day. Despite the geographical distance, they stay in contact with one another. In fact, before selling her home in Jacksonville and moving to Washington, D.C., Tepas enjoyed a luncheon with several of her fellow founders.

“It’s remarkable to me the closeness that has developed among us,” Tepas said. “We are a family, an extended family, and would do anything for each other.”

2022 TraumaOne Heroes Council

Amy P. Meyer, Event Co-Chair

Erin Yorkgitis, Event Co-Chair

AnneMarie Awad

Jessica Cummings

Renée Farrell

Olivia Frick

Courtney Hassan

Megan R. Heiden

Deborah James

Ashlea Justice

Sarah Lane

Kim Mallory

Lesia May

Cindy Meysenburg

Julia Paul

Eva Roth

Jamie Rood

Denda Shields

Kate Strickland

Tracy Williams

Katy Wittman