An Unshakeable Family

July 16, 2015
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It seemed as if Gretchen and Peter V. Haight became steadfast friends of Saint John’s Health Center from the minute they arrived in Los Angeles in 1984. Peter, at the invitation of a friend, immediately joined the Foundation’s board of trustees. The couple devoted time and support for the Health Center and enjoyed the friendships and sense of fulfillment that comes with serving their community.

But it wasn’t until many years later—in late 2014—when the Health Center was able to truly return the favor and come to the aid of the Haights during their hour of need. In September Gretchen was suddenly stricken with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a mysterious disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The disorder can be life-threatening if it affects the lungs and cardiovascular system, which it did in Gretchen’s case.

Within 48 hours of the onset of the disorder, she was paralyzed. A team of 13 physicians attended to Gretchen during the six weeks she spent in the intensive care unit. A member of her family—either Peter or one of the couple’s three adult children who live in the area (they have six children and four grandchildren)—spent every night with her.

“I almost didn’t make it,” Gretchen says. “It’s a miracle that I’m still alive. The hospital is wonderful. When people find out how close to death I was, they say, ‘You must have been terrified.’ But I was never scared because everyone on the hospital staff did everything they could to help me feel supported and calm and at peace.”

Gretchen is quite familiar with the Saint John’s brand of care. Following a career as an editor and writer, she shifted her focus to spiritual matters, becoming a volunteer chaplain at the Health Center.

Gretchen and Peter are also deeply involved in St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica. Gretchen facilitates the healing prayer group and centering prayer group at the church.

“The hospital did a lot to just shepherd me through the illness,” she says. “A chaplain came each day and kept me inspired by scripture.”

Gretchen spent several more weeks at two rehabilitation centers before she arrived home on December 10 for a joyous holiday.

Today Gretchen and Peter focus on their blessings. Gretchen hopes to soon resume her volunteer chaplaincy work, while Peter enjoys his hobby of designing and building furniture. He recently completed a dining room table for one of his children.

Peter also remains busy with his work at the Foundation. Through the years, he has been instrumental in guiding the Foundation on financial matters.

“I think the most fulfilling part of working with the Foundation is that I’ve been able to apply what I had learned in my career in terms of fundraising and investment as well as trust and estate work to help Saint John’s on the investment and finance committees,” he says. “Also, I chaired the planned giving committee shortly after it got started in the early ‘90s.”

The Haights have made plans in their will to remember Saint John’s. Peter is a proponent of using IRAs to distribute wealth to charitable organizations.

“When giving to charity, probably the first option to consider should be an IRA,” he says. “IRAs are a wonderful vehicle for giving. With Saint John’s as an IRA beneficiary, rather than heirs, the Health Center will receive the full value of these funds, tax-free, whereas heirs will be subject to both income tax and estate taxes, before receiving any benefit.

“Many people enjoy giving during their lifetimes and seeing the benefits of their financial support,” he notes. “But for some, it can be difficult to confront setting up estate plans. One major reward, however, is that estate donors have the reassurance of knowing they will leave a positive legacy and will not burden their survivors with difficult decisions.”

Engaging in the process of planning gifts, setting up the estate and periodically making revisions are important to all involved because tax and estate law continues to change, Peter says, adding: “Over the years estate gifts have made a huge difference to the well-being of Saint John’s.”


Leave a Lasting Legacy

Leaving your IRA to charity can have lasting benefits. By designating Saint John’s Health Center Foundation as the beneficiary of your IRA, you help to continue our mission of providing compassionate care. You also receive financial benefits for your heirs and estate including:

  • Reduced estate taxes after death—Your IRA gift allows for a federal estate tax deduction.
  • Charitable gift given in full amount, tax-free—Charities can receive the full amount of your IRA, as opposed to heirs who are subject to income tax.
  • Personal gratification and a lasting legacy—You create a legacy for the entire community for years to come.
To learn more, please contact Tanya Lopez at 310-582-7095 or tanya.lopez@stjohns.org.