Twinkle Gala burns bright for NICU

There are few causes more emotional than support for neonatal care.

And yet, while premature or critically ill babies are society’s most vulnerable patients, we often miss the mark in ensuring these newborns receive the fundraising they deserve, according to Dr. Pradeep Merchant, perinatologist and site chief of neonatology at the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital.


Special patients require their own special approach to philanthropy, and indeed, last week, Dr. Merchant’s wish came true.

The Twinkle Gala, hosted by Cognos founder Michael Potter at his Rockcliffe home, shined light on the need for an updated neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Ottawa Hospital’s general campus. Presented by the Lift Foundation, Dr. Merchant chaired the event with noted philanthropist and community leader Gary Zed and Dr. George Tawagi, chief of obstetrics at The Ottawa Hospital.

“Neonatal care in Ottawa required this overhaul. The perception is that newborn care all happens at the children’s hospital. But the children are born in the adult institution – not CHEO,” Dr. Merchant explained.

“Our position is to deliver world-class care. So we need a world-class facility.”

The WCPD Foundation was proud to serve as a sponsor of the Twinkle Gala and offer its flow-through tax efficient donation structure to many of the donors seeking to increase what they give to the cause.

More than 200 of Ottawa’s most influential business and philanthropic leaders attended the star-studded, $5,000-a-plate gala, with proceeds going toward the $5 million fundraising campaign. Dr. Merchant said that the team is very close to achieving this goal, with the government providing matching funds to reach their overall goal of $10 million.

He added that, in addition to generous donations from the business community, doctors have also given tremendously to the cause.

“Doctors have also stepped up in using flow-through for their donations,” Dr. Merchant said.

 “When doctors buy into their own cause, people appreciate that. It shows it is near and dear to them.”

Peter Nicholson, the President of WCPD Inc., who attended the Twinkle Gala, said the evening was special for him on many levels, both because of the cause and his own experience with the NICU.


“Two of my children have benefited from the amazing work and dedication of these healthcare professionals,” he added. “So Twinkle Gala and the people involved make the whole campaign really incredible. Anabel and I were truly honoured to serve as a sponsor and do our part to help raise these funds.”

In all, the Twinkle Gala became the largest third-party fundraiser in the history of The Ottawa Hospital.

Dr. Merchant also wished to thank Gary Zed “from the bottom of my heart” for all his hard working bringing the Twinkle Gala to fruition.

Planning began with Zed and Dr Tawagi more than a year and a half ago, he said. The group decided that, with the need being so important, they couldn’t wait for government funds.

Instead, they decided to seek private donations and then encourage the government to get involved through matching funds.

Apart from the fundraising, the evening also took on a whimsical tone, with the organizers choosing an Alice in Wonderland theme. Guests strolled through a pretend time portal and were greeted by characters in costume, elaborate decorations and harvest table-style spread of food prepared by well-known local chefs such as Tim Stock (Play Food & Wine) and Marc Lepine (Atelier).


Amid the wining and dining was a mix of top-notch Canadian music and entertainment, including Randy Bachman, Alan Doyle, Serena Ryder and Mark Critch.

“We couldn’t have asked for more,” Dr. Merchant said.

“ I think we will continue this momentum going into the future as well. The weather was perfect and I think everyone enjoyed the real twinkle of stars  in the sky above.”