The inaugural Organ Project Gala took place in the Canadian Ballroom of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel Toronto on Friday, March 31, 2017. This fundraiser was launched in 2016 by Eugene Melnyk, an Ukrainian Canadian businessman, founder of Biovail Corporation and owner of the Ottawa Senators hockey team after his own medical emergency which required an organ transplant.

In spring 2015 he was told he needed a new liver and held a news conference in order to find a suitable donor. Through this experience, he met many families who suffered heartache and despair; Melnyk vowed to end the organ transplant list in Canada. The goal of the organization, which will work with all levels of government, is to try to help make the process of organ donation quicker and simpler; and in result, saving more lives. This first gala took place on the eve of Organ Donation Awareness Month and was sold out. The reception started with passed hors d’oeuvres: foie gras on toast, mushroom crostini, blinis topped with caviar, arancini, and breaded lamb chops. Once inside the Ballroom, the evening continued with a performance by the original cast of Jersey Boys with a backup choir. Emcee Melissa Grelo; co-host of CP24 Breakfast and the moderator of The Social, introduced families whose lives have been affected by organ transplants. Three new television commercials were launched which the focus on raising public awareness and initiate action in support of organ donation, one with the famous voice of Morgan Freeman.

A live auction took place that included luxurious vacations, retreats, and elite sporting packages. The goal was to raise over 2 million dollars. Although the dinner was excellent, the highlight of the evening was the performance by seven-time Grammy Award winner Carrie Underwood, the wife of former Ottawa Senators hockey centre Mike Fisher. In 2011 Mr. Fisher was traded to the Nashville Predators so that he could play where his wife was then living. Carrie Underwood told Eugene Melnyk, Owner of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators at that time: “If I can ever do anything for you…,” as a result, she agreed to perform at this inaugural gala for free. A large number of sponsors also came forward in support of this worthy cause: PCL Construction, Gowling WLG, and Mattamy Homes, just to name a few. The ‘warm up act’ to Carrie Underwood was Carly Rose Sonenclar who rose to fame after being on The X Factor. Eugene Melnyk and his daughters Anna and Olivia stressed the importance of registering as an organ doner when they took the stage; visit https://beadonor.ca to find out how. For more information about the Organ Project, please visit their website at: https://www.theorganproject.net/

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