IT’S A CALL LIKE NO OTHER — one that could mean life or death. Susan Mahler’s call came on June 19, 2010 — a day before a planned Father’s Day celebration.
“This is Jeanne at Cedars,” the caller said. “We have a heart. Come now.”
It was a call Mahler had been hoping to get and, at the same time, one that she dreaded. In a matter of hours and within a crowded operating room, she would receive a new heart from a donor whose name she does not know. It arrived by helicopter.
Mahler’s husband, Barney, and daughter, Trish, helped her pack and the three raced to the car for the long drive through maddening traffic to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
A retired Chula Vista elementary-school principal, Mahler took the wheel; it was the only way she could keep her mind off the gravity of the impending operation.
Since being diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2000, Mahler had been on a seesaw of hospitalizations, surgeries and doctor visits. At one time, she was on life support, a drip therapy keeping her alive. The prognosis was gloomy — until she received the new heart, which has put her back on a more normal footing.
Twenty-four hours after the operation, Mahler was walking. Nine days later, she was discharged from the hospital and put in an intensive outpatient rehab program in Los Angeles. But she wasn’t entirely out of the woods. A deadly E. coli infection developed in her system, and she lost seven pints of blood. It was back to the hospital for five more days.
In August 2010, Mahler came home. Soon, she was working out at the local gym — and was even on the slopes at Lake Tahoe. Today, she must avoid direct exposure to the sun, avoid uncooked seafood and remain mindful of situations that could compromise her immune system. But that’s an easy tradeoff from the way things were.
“I had quite an adventure,” she says, praising her doctors at Cedars-Sinai and Kaiser Permanente.
Her family history showed a clean bill of heart health, so the diagnosis came as a shock. She presented a symptom shared by many women with heart disease: shortness of breath that made climbing stairs impossible. Through aggressive intervention, her doctors kept her alive.
Things easily could have taken a different turn. “One in three women will die of heart disease,” Mahler says. Working with the local chapter of the American Heart Association, she now advocates for building awareness of heart disease among women. Her goal is to “paint this town red” during February’s Go Red for Women heart campaign.
“This is a role I never thought I’d be playing,” she says. But she certainly has auditioned for the part. And for that hard work, perseverance and hope, she has won rave reviews.
expo and silent auction;
luncheon and fashion show
Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines,
10950 N. Torrey Pines Road,
$150, premium seats $275
Wellness: Heart Health: By Carl H. Larsen • Photography by David Hartig
A New Orleans style spread for the Super Bowl
WHEN THE QUEEN OF CATERING has a few friends over to share a big football day, you know there will be more than TV watching on the menu.
This year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans was the perfect inspiration for Mary Kay Waters and her husband, district attorney Jim Waters, to entertain outdoors at their home with its amazing view of Mission Bay. An added advantage is that the Waters have firsthand experience with the food and restaurants of New Orleans and lots of football fans as friends, including ex-Chargers place kicker Rolf Bernischke and his wife, Mary. Other guests included lawyer friends, the Waters’ son Sean and other relatives.
Mid-winter entertaining in San Diego may involve sunshine, showers or a com-bination thereof. The Waters’ outdoor living room is covered but open on one side to the perspective of a large, grassy lawn. In the event of a mid-party squall, the room can be closed off with protective canvas curtains.
A path mid-lawn leads to a water view-point on the edge of the property that is a favorite spot to locate the bar for a party. For this day, it was a spot to order drinks on arrival, including craft beers from New Orleans, and later to linger over one last glass of wine while viewing the sunset.
Another reason for the Waters to entertain these days is a patio with their new outdoor pizza oven that can be utilized to cook far more than the Italian pie. Counter space in this area also functioned as the oyster bar, with the abundant bi-valves arranged on an antique silver epergne from Jim’s family. The oysters were paired with pickled beets and okra, house-made cocktail sauce, mignonette, Brennan’s remoulade and, of course, lemon wedges.
For this Super Bowl gathering, the re-modeled kitchen of the Waters’ Bay Park home, with extensive granite counters, could accommodate preparation on one side and the arrangement of a variety of the ongoing offerings of the menu on the other end — just steps away from the television.
In the outdoor living room, a coffee table surrounded by seating in clear view of the football game provided another place for serving food buffet style.
In the patio area, a table for sit-down dining was set with La Tavola linens in sunset colors from Napa. The formal dining room also was set in case it was needed, though most of the gathering remained around the kitchen and patio in full view of the game.
“The Game Book,” as Mary Kay called her menu, started with the “Oyster Bar,” then “Side Lines,” including warm, roasted-artichoke fondue, sweet potato-bacon hush puppies, Bayou Cajun chicken wing-dingers with a buttermilk-blue-cheese dressing and sliders served on the kitchen bar and around the television.
A big hit among many was the Central Market mini muffaletta, a classic stacked and stuffed French bread with ingredients that included salami, cured Italian ham, mortadella, mozzarella and fontina.
The “Wood Fire Oven Station” served up sizzling pan-roasted crawfish, andouille sausage, mozzarella, herbs and peppers on Mary Kay’s hand-formed crusts.
“Half Time” amazed the guests gathering on the outdoor patio with a Louisiana shrimp and crab étouffée served over steamed white rice.
By game’s end, a state of exhilaration was greeted by the guests with a glorious “Sweet Victory” array of pastry chef Joe Burns’ Valrhona chocolate mini cupcakes decorated with footballs, French Quarter beignets paired with several sauce choices, New Orleans pecan praline pops on a stick and Commander’s Palace bread pudding.
All in all, it added up to one super, super day.
Entertaining: By Phyllis Van Doren • Photography by Martin Mann
BRANDI WILLIAMS, THE NEW morning television personality at KUSI-TV, is no stranger to the world of broadcasting. By the age of 21, this Southern Pennsylvania glamour girl moved on from the beauty-pageant track (she won 50 of them as a child) and her role as an NFL cheerleader to host the nationally syndicated Vegas Minute; co-host Fox TV’s popular New Year’s Eve party with Ryan Seacrest; and host The Ultimate Poker Challenge, a nationally televised show during the height of the poker rebirth.
Williams’ career highlights include reporting for KTLA (Los Angeles), TV’s Extra and E! Entertainment. She hosted her own show on the Outdoor Channel and World’s Biggest Birthday Party on the Travel Channel with Donny Osmond. She also hosted the Mark Burnett
reality TV show Toughest Cowboy.
While working for TV Guide, she covered the red carpet for three years and was routinely in the face of such A-List stars as Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and George Clooney.
“I’m so happy to be here in San Diego,” Williams says. “I love what I do and I love that I get to show the real me on television every day.”
The “real me” translates to a clean-cut beauty — Williams doesn’t drink alcohol or caffeine, doesn’t smoke or do drugs. And, she’s rescued more than 200 dogs over the last five years.
Look for Williams in the morning slot Wednesdays through Fridays as a KUSI reporter and host of Pet Tip of the Week and on weekends as an anchor and host of Brandi-Tainment.
San Diego Life: By Joe Ditler
ANTIQUES DEALER CHRISTIAN CHAFFEE is a man filled with desire for three vintage streetcars that once clanged along San Diego’s streets.
But he’s running out of time to get the yellow trolleys operating again to coincide with festivities marking the centennial of the Panama-California Exposition held in Balboa Park.
He’s hoping to have the cars, designated by the city as historic properties, restored and running on a demonstration line weaving along a temporary three-quarters of a mile right-of-way in Balboa Park by Jan. 1, 2015. Projected cost: $5 million.
In 1996, Chaffee saved the cars, which had been transformed into an El Cajon home, from the wrecking yard. The cars last ran on city streets in 1939.
“I’ve had 16 years to think about this,” says Chaffee, who sees an updated fleet of the cars returning to city streets. It’s not a pipe dream. Transit planners are considering bringing streetcars back to in-town neighborhoods.
But there’s a catch, as always. San Diego already has a vintage trolley running several days a week on a downtown loop that is operated by the Metropolitan Transit System. It shares trackage with the familiar San Diego Trolley.
But that car — and five others in the MTS car barn — does not hold the pedigree that is Chaffee’s ace up the sleeve. His cars were designed specifically for San Diego and were commissioned by entrepreneur John D. Spreckels for his San Diego Electric Railway Co. They arrived here just before the onset of World War I. Sleeker in design, but more utilitarian, the cars operated over MTS tracks are “imports’ from other cities, although they are similar to trolleys that once ran here.
Chaffee has run into a governmental maze to get his cars running, ranging from local planning groups to MTS, Caltrans and SANDAG. He’s poured personal funds into the effort, and has set up a nonprofit, San Diego Historic Streetcars, to push the idea. His cars make sense, he says, because of their accessibility with doors on each side, and controls to operate them at each end, eliminating the need to turn them around. And there’s the ambience, evoking an Arts & Crafts style with polished cherry wood, signal buttons embedded in mother of pearl and solid-bronze hardware.
“What you have here are three little cars that somehow survived. They need to be appreciated and taken care of,” says long-time San Diego journalist Welton Jones, who is working with Chaffee (a 2012 recipient of SOHO’s People in Preservation awards) on his goal to bring back a bit of the city’s history.
MICHAEL HUNTER GREW UP IN A FAMILY that valued “the need to stop, appreciate and share what we have with others,” a tenet he takes to heart — especially during the holidays when he decorates his entire home, then invites friends and members of the community to visit.
”I always have my door open to share my holiday decorations with all; kids from churches, schools and other areas,” Hunter says.
He’s been doing this for 24 years and always begins decorating in September, leaving the dining room for last, because it is used for a large Thanksgiving celebration.
“I never have any help, and I’m never sure what is going where. It is fun to be creative and just see what happens.”
Every room in his 1, 000-square-foot condo gets decked out — including the guest bathroom, which dons a 7-foot Christmas tree in the middle of the tub.
Hunter used to own a catering company when he lived in Colorado; now he works in property management, maintaining homes, running errands and cooking for such clients as Audrey Geisel, wife of the late Dr. Seuss. His passion for cooking also is well utilized at his own large holiday parties.
“I would like to think friends come because of me, but sometimes I think they come for the food and the decorations,” he jokes.
What he truly loves is the happiness he is able to give to others during each holiday party and this is why he continues to open his home to all.
“To be able to share my home, talents for decorating and the love for cooking and baking with my friends, is what the holidays are all about,” he says.
San Diego Life: By Brittany Bagdasarian