Carmel Valley parents chair Rady Children’s Hospital gala after daughter’s successful spinal fusion surgery

By Kristina Houck

Richard Gelbart’s daughter was still in a hospital bed, recovering from spinal fusion surgery when he called Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation to learn how he could help the organization. Inspired by the success of her operation and the staff’s attentive care, the Carmel Valley father wanted to give back.

“Sitting in the hospital, you get the sense of how Rady Children’s Hospital embraces not only the patient, but the family — pre-op and post-operatively,” said Gelbart, whose 15-year-old daughter Marisa underwent spinal fusion surgery Feb. 24. “I thought it was brilliant and really caring and very conscious of an institution to get down to that grassroots, family-level. It touched me. I felt fortunate in our unfortunate situation.”

Gelbart and his wife, Kris, became co-chairs of the 2014 Miracle Makers Gala, the hospital’s largest fundraiser. They shared their story in front of the gala’s 1,100 attendees May 31 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina.

“I loved it,” he said. “It felt so right.”

Marisa was diagnosed with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, when she was just 9 years old. Because it was only a slight curve, it was treated with physical therapy. She also wore a body brace for about three years.

While vacationing in Palm Desert during spring break last year, Gelbart noticed his daughter’s scoliosis had rapidly progressed.

“It frightened me because it was so contorted,” he said. “I remember getting really emotional and getting tears in my eyes.”

After talking with his wife, the couple decided to take their daughter to Rady Children’s Hospital for an exam.

In January, the Gelbart family met with Dr. Peter Newton, an orthopedic surgeon at Rady Children’s Hospital. Marisa’s spine was now curved at an 88-degree angle and it had rotated. She needed surgery.

Initially, Marisa’s surgery was planned for the beginning of summer, but further testing two weeks later revealed the curve of her spine had increased to 107 degrees.

“The doctor had great concern on his face,” Gelbart said. “He was holding a poker face, but I could see it.”

Marisa underwent spinal fusion surgery Feb. 24. After spending one night in the intensive care unit and the next four in the hospital, she got to go home with her parents and her older brother Eric.

“It was amazing,” Gelbart said. “Everybody was just amazed.”

Marisa went into surgery at 5-foot-2. Now standing at 5-foot-5, she just completed her freshman year at Canyon Crest Academy.

“My daughter is doing so well,” Gelbart said. “She’s happy, she’s healthy.”

To learn more about Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation or to donate, visit