Some of Hollywood's brightest stars flew into Salt Lake City Thursday to honor one of Washington's "stars" for his efforts to "lift the level of health care in the United States."
"Americans don't truly understand the huge contributions Orrin Hatch has made," Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told Utah dignitaries who gathered Thursday night for the American Kidney Foundation of Utah's annual fund-raising dinner. "This country owes him a debt of gratitude."Hatch's friend, television star Lynda Carter, also was in Utah to honor Hatch. She shared the spotlight with Valenti and actor Gary Coleman. Along with hundreds of Utahns, the celebrities paid homage to the Republican senator for his efforts to help those who can't help themselves.
The $125-a-plate dinner at the Salt Lake Hilton raised more than $100,000 for kidney disease research, patient services and public education.
"Sen. Hatch has done more than any other U.S. Senator for health care legislation in this country - particularly for kidney patients, but for all people who have transplants of any kind," said Deen Vetterli, foundation executive director.
Hatch, who received the foundation's "Gift of Life" award, was specifically honored for his leadership in the Senate in establishing the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Act of 1983. Also applauded were his efforts in furthering funding for immunosuppressive drugs; his strong commitment to national biomedical research and his continuing advocacy of health care services in the home.
"I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for the conscious efforts of individuals in the world like Sen. Hatch," said Coleman, who's undergone two kidney transplants.
The 20-year-old star of "Different Strokes" said he's suffered kidney problems since birth. He underwent his first transplant at age 5; a second at age 16.
Coleman spoke enthusiastically about his own forthcoming foundation - "Future For 'em" - which will assist people in obtaining essential funds for transplantations.
It's also one of Hatch's goals.
"There's much more that needs to be done. We need to deal with all the problems of ethics - who receives the first rights to the limited number of available organs," Hatch said. "We need to work hard to get the entire country to develop more donors and provide better methods of getting immunosuppressive drugs to people who really can't afford them.
"In the area of AIDS, which may affect organ donations, we have to go through . . . confidentiality problems this year, which are very complex, difficult and sometimes are very partisan."