ELKHART — The large heart statues that were on display along Main Street for a couple months were sold during the Elkhart General Hospital Foundation's Have a Heart gala and fundraiser on Valentine's Day.
The event at the Lerner Theatre on Friday night, Feb. 14, became one of the largest fundraising events in Elkhart County history.
Tim Portolese, who co-chaired the fundraiser committee with Suzie Weirick, said the evening as a whole, with underwriting and sponsors, raised an estimated $700,000. Of that, $250,000 to $300,000 was from a "paddle raise" appeal that was split between the hospital foundation and Martin's Foundation.
This is the first fundraising event in the 80-year history of the hospital foundation, Portolese said. A total of 386 seats were sold for the event, he said, making it one of the largest auctions in terms of people in the county.
The top bid for a heart was $50,000, with others ranging down to $1,000. In addition, smaller decorated hearts were sold in a silent auction, with some bringing $2,000, Portolese said.
While the money was an important aspect of event, the foundation's hope is that the fundraiser helped raise awareness of the EGH Center for Cardiac Care, EGH president Greg Losasso said.
"We want people to understand what's happening in Elkhart, to know about our cardiac program," he said.
The hospital's foundation commissioned artists and organizations, including schools and the hospital, to paint the 20 large hearts that were on display throughout Elkhart's downtown area and 25 smaller hearts that were on display inside some of Elkhart's businesses.
Proceeds from the fundraiser will be given to HeartReach Michiana, a nonprofit organization started by EGH cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Walter Halloran to buy and distribute portable automated external defibrillators, or AEDs.
Part of the funds will also be used to purchase equipment allowing the center's cardiologists to implant ventricular assist devices, which are necessary for patients awaiting heart transplants.
Losasso also announced at the event that Jon Housand, who has been executive director of the hospital foundation, will be retiring in March.
Marshall V. King contributed to this story.