The President of the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Loma Linda Guild says the organization's annual membership luncheon, held Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Redlands Country Club, was the best ever.

“Not only did we have 160 guests—the largest attendance in the history of the event—but the program was so good that many of them didn’t want to leave when it came to an end,” Lynn Sleeth reports. “Instead, they hung around for half an hour, talking, helping us clean up and reveling in the good vibes. It was the best ever!”

The event got underway with a welcome and invocation by Sleeth. Next up, 10-year-old pianist Ben Phipatanakul kept the audience spellbound with his keyboard artistry, offering up spirited versions of “Amazing Grace” and “The Prayer.” When the audience gave Ben a standing ovation, Dixie Watkins, co-founder and co-immediate past president of the organization, asked for an encore. The young pianist obliged with an awesome performance of Chopin’s Opus 64, Number 1, the popular “Minute Waltz.”

“He was the main draw,” observes Julie Cutler, membership chair and coordinator of the event. “Everybody loved Ben!”  

After the applause subsided, Jillian Payne, assistant vice president of the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation, introduced keynote speaker Donald C. Moores, MD, chief of pediatric surgery and medical director of pediatric trauma services.

In a tour de force presentation, Moores regaled the audience with highlights of the guild’s contributions to the patients of Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital (LLUCH). Beginning with the organization’s founding in 1999, Moores told the story of how three women with a vision—Watkins, Eloise Habekost and Nancy Varner—formed the guild from nothing but determination and persistence. He pointed out that the organization, to date, has raised more than $1.6 million for the benefit of Inland Empire Children.

Moores then launched into a recital of several major pieces of vital medical equipment and non-medical supplies the guild has purchased and donated to the hospital including:

  • Pediatric endoscopes
  • Giraffe OmniBed CareStations
  • Giraffe Warmers
  • Transport monitors
  • Glidescopes
  • Vein finders
  • mamaRoos infant rockers
  • Swings
  • Carolina recliners
  • Mobiles and mirrors, and
  • Countless teddy bears and children’s books

He then recounted four building projects the guild has funded: the waiting room for family members of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit, the Garden of Hope, the Reading Nook and the Children’s Hospital chapel. Moores went on regaling the audience with stories of annual events the guild produces to provide Children’s Hospital patients with opportunities to leave the clinical environment and come to the hospital lobby to play and interact with other kids: the annual Spring Read, Fall into Reading, Gingerbread Village and Carols in the Lobby programs. He concluded by calling members of the guild “super heroes for children.”

Throughout his presentation, Moores interspersed his comments with humor. He turned serious, however, when it came time to discuss pediatric trauma in the Inland Empire. He noted that a 1917 collision between two ships in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, resulted in an explosion and disaster that is widely cited as the event that led physicians and medical authorities to call for the establishment of children’s hospitals. He added that today, LLUCH is one of 178 children’s hospitals in the United States.

“Pediatric trauma is deadly,” Moores observed. “It is the number one cause of death of children in the United States. It kills more children than all other causes combined.”

After noting that 12,490 children died from pediatric trauma in the United States in 2009, Moores told the group that the condition—which often results from motor vehicle accidents, drowning or child abuse—is 95 percent preventable.

“During this luncheon,” Moores told the group, “approximately 1,190 children will be injured in the United States by pediatric trauma, 700 will seek help in a hospital emergency room and one child will die. Pediatric trauma due to child abuse is the number one cause of death among children under the age of 4 in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. One-sixth of all reported cases of child abuse in the state of California take place here in the Inland Empire.”

He noted that 34.3 percent of all deaths among children less than 4 years old in the Inland Empire are considered homicide.

“There are three main factors associated with child abuse in our community,” Moores reported. “The first is parental or guardian issues. These may include substance abuse, poor education, or mental health issues. The second is related to the type of children that are often traumatized. They may be handicapped or hyperactive, picky eaters, have issues with toilet training or negativity; they may also be unwanted or illegitimate children. The third is social or situational in nature. The parent may be unemployed or suffering from financial stress. Unrelated caregivers, such as a mom’s new boyfriend, are often implicated in child abuse. So are things like housing issues, family discord or domestic violence.”

Moores left things on an optimistic note, however, by pointing out that trauma-related mortality rates have decreased by 60 percent in the last 30 years, and by 29 percent in the last decade alone.

“Trauma is unpredictable,” Moores said. “It can happen to anybody at any time. That’s why we think it’s important to be ready at all times. We want every child to have the best chance of survival. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Loma Linda Guild!”

“We do this to make life better for patients of Loma Linda University Children's Hospital," Cutler observed as the event drew to a close. “Individuals who share our vision are invited to join us.”

Information about joining the guild is available online at:


Scroll down to see a trio of Don Finch photos from the event.