Attendees at the Circle of Stars fundraiser Denim, Diamonds and Champagne watch the presentation.

Fifty years ago, Dolores Hope and a small group of intrepid women joined forces to raise funds to build Eisenhower Medical Center. Today, one of its female-driven philanthropic arms, Circle of Stars, illuminates the significant impact of altruistic women sharing a common goal.

“Most of the not-for-profits here in the Valley are started by women; women joined by other women, working really hard—physically, emotionally, and philanthropically—to make a difference,” says Deborah DeSantis, Circle of Stars Senior Director of Major Gifts at Eisenhower Health. “Some people just give money. Other people work to raise that money. I believe women do a really good job of raising money versus just giving money.”

The group, which launched several years ago and now consists of about 140 women, has an annual membership commitment. Additional donations are also given. Membership levels vary—from $1,000 to $10,000—but the group’s sole purpose, DeSantis is quick to note, is to advance the health care for the community.

To that end, each year Circle of Stars funds a specific project at Eisenhower Health, whether it be a goal to purchase lifesaving, state-of-the-art equipment for dermatology, oncology, pulmonology, or cardiology. The 2022 challenge, fittingly, centers around ultrasound technology, which was first utilized 80 years ago. Ever evolving, ultrasound has morphed into radiology’s most resourceful tool in that it can examine all parts of the body—from revealing various life-threatening pathologies and guiding interventional procedures to monitoring pregnancies.

With a goal of acquiring approximately $500,000 this year, Circle of Stars has its collective eye set on the new Philips EPIQ ultrasound systems, the most technologically sophisticated tools in this level of diagnostics. The impact of the portable, 3D imagery, modern machines can impact the lives of patients throughout the hospital—from obstetrics to the emergency room.

Raju Mehta, Brooke Koehler and Anne Furgal attend the Circle of Stars fundraiser Denim, Diamonds and Champagne

“What’s really nice about Circle of Stars is that you can see where your money is going,” DeSantis shares. “Our doctors talk about the project before the season, so we know what we’re looking at. At the end of the season or the beginning of the next, they let us know the impact that has been made.”

Recently Eisenhower Health and Circle of Stars received a grant from the Elissa Hepner Donor Advised Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation, which manages funds to facilitate grants that serve the pressing needs of the community.

DeSantis says that ever since the organization emerged several years ago, it has steadfastly grown in terms of commitment and verve. Obtaining equipment to save lives and improve a patient’s quality of life is of utmost importance.

“I always say it’s for your friends, your family, your neighbors, and for you,” DeSantis adds.

She specifically notes successful new additions in dermatology and Eisenhower’s mammography system, which was purchased last year.

“Every woman has a mammography done yearly,” DeSantis says. “You never know how this will affect your own life. Will yours be the life that is saved because of this equipment that’s being funding?”

In addition to wanting Coachella Valley residents near and far to learn more about Eisenhower Health, in general, and Circle of Stars, DeSantis draws attention to a recent success story that clearly defines the depth of generosity the organization comes across.

In 2020, the organization started out with a $550,000 goal to purchase a new minimally invasive robotic system that would diagnose lung cancer more safely and accurately in its early stages.

“The equipment had been recently FDA-approved,” DeSantis explains. “The season was just starting, and we raised about $50,000. And then one of our Circle of Star members realized the importance of this equipment and gave $500,000. We met our goal right at the start of the season. It was just an amazing, generous gift. We had so much of the season left so we picked up a second project to get a nuclear scanner for cardiology. We raised $840,000 that year because of one member’s wonderful gift.”

All this during a pandemic year.

“These women are incredible,” DeSantis goes on. “When women are passionate about something, other women step up to the cause. Eisenhower was founded on philanthropy, Dolores Hope started fundraising so that we could come into existence. So, we appreciate our donors very much—every gift we receive, smallest to largest, makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our patients.”

For more information about Circle of Stars, call (760) 773-1888 or visit Learn more about Eisenhower Health at

This story originally appeared in the Desert Sun, April 2022

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