Dancing with the Docs gala raises record $433K for The Ottawa Hospital

Eight physicians step outside comfort zone to compete in ballroom dance contest

Elvis may have left the building but stepping up in his absence was Dr. Ralf Buhrmann, the swing-dancing doctor who took home this year’s magnificent Medicine Ball trophy at the Dancing with the Docs gala for patient care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.

The eye physician/surgeon was one of eight local doctors to participate in an exhilarating and entertaining ballroom dance competition at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday night. He was also the first male doctor to win in the event's four-year history.

The other dedicated dancing docs were: uOSSC director Vicki LeBlanc; physician radiologist Carole DennieJill Fulcher, a physician in hematology; radiation oncologist Jean-Michel Caudrelier; surgical oncologist Carolyn Nessim; clinician scientist Paul MacPherson; and Judith Nixon, a general practitioner in oncology who injured her hip in rehearsals the night before and did not perform. She hasn’t ruled out a possible return in 2019, though.

The brave physicians tore up the dance floor with their respective partners from Arthur Murray Dance Ottawa while judges marked them on performance, technique, choreography and audience reaction.

Cheering the dancers on was a sold-out audience of more than 800 hospital staff, physicians, patients, friends and family, and sponsors. The $195-a-ticket gala — which has grown wildly popular on the social scene— hit a fundraising high of more than $433,000.

Not only did the doctors learn over the past few months how to move with rhythm and style, but they also raised significant sums of money for causes near and dear to their hearts.

Dr. Buhrmann surpassed his lofty goal by raising more than $126,000 toward vision research and a new glaucoma clinic at the hospital’s Eye Institute. He and his dance partner, Kaja Urbanova, knocked everyone’s bobby socks off with their rock and roll swing tribute to Elvis. The votes and donations from audience members continued through the course of the evening.

Dancing with the Docs
From left, Kaja Urbanova from the Arthur Murray Dance Ottawa with Dr. Ralf Buhrmann at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala for The Ottawa Hospital, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The good doc had originally aimed for $100,000. That's the amount still required to complete a $1.6 million-campaign for a new clinic, he told OBJ.social. When patients learned about Buhrmann's creative efforts to raise money, they responded generously.

“We’re so privileged and touched,” he added. 

“This has been the culmination of a three-year process that began with a very generous donor encouraging us to dream about building a new clinic," said Buhrmann. "Over the last three years, that dream has taken shape. This clinic is going to be built very soon.”

Funds were also raised for cancer research, cancer clinical trials, breast cancer radiation research, targeted immuno-therapies cancer research, personalized cancer care, equipment at the Skills and Simulation Centre and for a research chair in gay men’s health.

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Dr. Carole Dennie with Darryl Cappadocia at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala for The Ottawa Hospital, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Dr. Vicki LeBlanc and Rémy Bourquin at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala for The Ottawa Hospital, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Vadim Safonov, franchisee and co-owner of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, in mid-air after leap frogging over his dance partner, Dr. Jill Fulcher, at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala for The Ottawa Hospital, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rémy Bourquin from Arthur Murray Dance Ottawa with Dr. Paul MacPherson at the 2018 Dancing with the Docs. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participants returned to the stage at the end of the competition for the grand reveal. Buhrmann accepted his shimmering giant disco ball trophy while colourful confetti fell from above and the Latin dance song Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez filled the air. The eye doctor called the win a “team effort."

Back to host the event were CTV Ottawa News anchors Graham Richardson and Patricia Boal. Their Bell Media colleague Shawn Simpson, a radio host with TSN 1200 and a former celebrity dancer for charity, returned to the three-judge panel. He was a good balance between the always-candid Carlos Lourenco from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Oakville and the endearingly enthusiastic Jennifer Van Noort from The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

The evening also featured a performance from 2017 Dancing with the Docs winner Dr. Roanne Segal.

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Patricia Boal and Graham Richardson at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala for The Ottawa Hospital, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left,  Shawn Simpson, Carlos Lourenco and Jennifer Van Noort served as judges during the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs ballroom dance competition held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018, in support of The Ottawa Hospital. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Viewers with a front row seat to the action included Dr. Duncan Stewart. The senior research scientist is CEO and scientific director of The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and executive vice-president of research at The Ottawa Hospital. He described the dance competition as “amazing, absolutely amazing.”

One had to wonder whether he had a longing to be a dancing doc himself.

“Not one little bit,” he responded faster than you can say cha-cha-cha. “Unless it's in the context of comedy.”

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From left, Dr. Duncan Stewart with his dinner hosts, Rinaldo Saikali from Saikali Portfolio Management/Scotia Wealth Management, fellow guest Greg Kane, former board chair of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and his son, Adam Kane, also with sponsor Scotia Wealth Management, at the 4th annual Dancing with the Docs gala in support of The Ottawa Hospital and held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The entertainment ranged from Dr. Caudrelier's playful Pink Panther-themed dance number to an intense theatrical display by Dr. Dennie. On stage, Dr. LeBlanc shed her Rocky-themed silk boxing robe to reveal a doctor’s white lab coat, which she also stripped off to end her performance in a metallic gold disco pantsuit.

“It was fantastic to see them in a different light,” commented Andé Martin, a partner at Mann Lawyers, after watching the doctors strut their stuff. The law firm got involved this year as the entertainment sponsor. “Hands down, this has now become one of our favourite events.”

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From left, Daniella Sicoli-Zupo, André Martin and Heather Austin-Skaret, all partners with Mann Lawyers, at the Dancing with the Docs gala held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy in support of patient care and research at The Ottawa Hospital. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

The evening included dinner, a silent auction and a raffle for two plane tickets from WestJet, plus a one-week stay in a luxury ocean-view villa at Grand Isle Resort & Spa in Exuma, Bahamas, donated by Peter Nicholson's The Foundation WCPD. The prize winner was Dr. LeBlanc's sister.

After the competition, the public was seen rushing to the dance floor to bust out their own moves.

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The dance floor, shortly after the dance competition ended, at the Dancing with the Docs gala held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Dancing with the Docs
Dance competition judge Jennifer Van Noort, vice-president of philanthropy and leadership giving for The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, on the crowded dance floor with 2018 Dancing with the Docs winner Dr. Ralf Buhrmann and his Medicine Ball trophy Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca