CHICAGO Katie Couric was the keynote speaker at Friday night's benefit dinner for Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy. Founded by Susan Axelrod, wife of David Axelrod and mother of Lauren, a 28-year-old epileptic, the 12-year-old benefit has a history of big-name speakers. According to Michelle Marciniak, the organization's executive director, past keynote addresses have come from Hillary and Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, and then-senator Barack Obama.
Couric's appearance at this year's dinner followed a segement that she recently produced for 60 Minutes, which provided an in-depth look at epilepsy and included interviews with the Axelrod family. In the past year, the disease was also the subject of cover stories in Parade and Newsweek magazines.
The recent media attention inspired the theme of Friday's event, “Epilepsy Takes Center Stage,” and was cause for reassurance among guests, most of them families affected by the disease. “Never before has epilepsy received attention of this magnitude,” Susan Axelrod said in her introduction to Couric. “This has and will continue to make a huge difference for epilepsy patients and their families.”
Marciniak said that the recent publicity also succeeded in bringing a larger crowd to the sold-out benefit, which drew around 800 guests and was over capacity by 100. While many of guests return to the event year after year, this gathering saw several new families and also drew more corporate sponsors. Marciniak estimated that the number of Gold sponsors, companies that purchased $12,000 tables, tripled over last year. The dinner ultimately raised $760,000.