By Adele Chapin Posted November 18, 2011, 2:28 PM EST
After a year of breakthrough medical advancements, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation celebrated with its annual Breath of Life gala at the National Building Museum on Saturday. The event drew its highest attendance to date with more than 800 guests and raised $3.2 million for research.
“Overall, it’s been a very positive year due to medical advancements and press that we’ve seen,” said Michelle Christian, development director for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, referring to the new drugs that target the genetic defect of the disease, not just the symptoms. “It’s breakthrough science. People get really, really excited about that and that’s helped us.”
For this year’s gala, Christian created a multiphase event, with a reception area on one side of the atrium, a dining space in the middle, and an after-party dubbed Club Breath on the other side.
When guests arrived for the reception at 6:30 p.m., they picked up their BidPal devices—new this year to the gala—and checked out silent auction items like a trip to the “Pretty Little Liars” set and a guitar signed by all four Beatles.
Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer presided over the evening’s program, filling in for “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley, who has served as M.C. at the gala for eight years but had a schedule conflict this year—he moderated Saturday’s Republican presidential debate. C.E.O. of Sunrise Senior Living Inc. Mark Ordan received the foundation’s Hitchcock Humanitarian Award during dinner, as guests dined on a three course meal from Ridgewells, including a salmon salad, dairy-free fall butternut squash soup, and braised short rib of beef.
In the last item on the program, cystic fibrosis patients Rachel Wood and Aaron Stocks delivered a presentation about the foundation’s work. But Stocks had a surprise up his sleeve—he also brought his girlfriend, Bradi Purdum, up on stage, got down on one knee, and proposed to her, as the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
“My first day ever working for the foundation was this event, and I thought it would be really fitting to do this at my fifth [event]. The foundation means everything to me,” Stocks said later. Both Stocks and Purdum are employees of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Purdum was left completely surprised by the proposal.
After a moment like that, celebration was in order. Guests headed to Club Breathe to dance to disco classics like “YMCA” and “We Are Family” performed by a very glittery Right on Band, while snacking on mini blueberry pies and marshmallow pops from two dessert stations.