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Palmetto-based Feld Entertainment hopes to raise more than $500,000 to cure cancer

PALMETTO -- Bonnie Feld said people who hold tickets to the Big Top Gala at Feld Entertainment are in for the ride of their lives.

"I hope they don't need to be resuscitated when they first walk in because they will need to take a 'wow' breath," Feld said.

Eight months ago, Feld Entertainment signed on to play host to The American Cancer Society of Manatee and Sarasota's Big Top Gala fundraiser at the firm's Palmetto headquarters. Feld officials have been scripting, designing, building and rehearsing for something special ever since, Feld said.

The company that stages shows such as "Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey", "Disney On Ice", "Monster Jam," "Arenacross," and about 16 other events, is doing the gala the only way it knows how -- as a complete production, said Feld, wife of Feld Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Feld and mother to Nicole, Alana and Juliette, all who have positions in the family owned company,

Bonnie Feld would not share event details Thursday to keep it a surprise for those attending from 6-11 p.m. Saturday. She did let out some hints as to what is in store at the black-tie optional event in one of two massive rehearsal halls wired for sound and lights at 2001 U.S. 301, Palmetto.

Being a Big Top Gala, you can guess it has a circus theme, Feld said. She said the gala will have the "vibrancy, passion and excitement" of all Feld shows.

"I think they will be like children with their very first magical experience," Feld said of the crowd estimated to be 450. "We're going to knock their socks off."

A handful of the $250 tickets are left, said Jennifer Howe, an American Cancer Society spokeswoman.

"The best number to call for tickets is 941-328-3760," Howe said.

Taylor Swift enlisted

Although she enjoys talking about the mystery and magic of the gala, Feld lights up when she talks about child cancer research and how it relates to the Feld's Asian elephant herd of more than 40 animals, which are set to come off the show road during May and reside permanently at the Feld's Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County.

The Felds have forged a relationship with Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer doctor with the Primary Children's Hospital and University of Utah School of Medicine, who is in charge of a research lab studying why elephants rarely get cancer, with the hope of finding out how to cure cancers in children.

Schiffman knows a gene called P53, affectionately referred to as a "knight" because of its warrior attitude toward cancer, is sometimes missing or broken in some children. P53, in healthy children, can fight off a cancerous cell or destroy it.

Humans have two copies of P53-like cells, one from mother and one from father.

Elephants have 40 copies of cells and their own "knights." Schiffman is studying how and why elephant cells are repaired or destroyed before they become cancerous, Feld said.

Feld elephants have blood drawn weekly by Feld vets. The Felds have given Schiffman and his team access to that blood for research,

"Now the research goes forward," Feld said.

Schiffman thinks a drug may do the work of the faulty P53 in children.

"It will be very exciting when it gets to the place where it can have human trials," Feld said.

Feld she would be disappointed if the gala doesn't raise at least a half-million dollars, some of which will go to Schiffman's research.

She reaches out to anyone who can help the family raise research funds, including superstar singer Taylor Swift, she said Thursday.

"We will find a stage for Taylor to perform and we will invite her to our Center for Elephant Conservation to see the elephants," Feld said of Swift as a cancer-fighter.

It is Bonnie Feld's dream that in four or five years Schiffman and the Felds may be able to announce something even more sensational than a gala -- a cure, she said.

Schiffman will attend the gala as will the Felds, including Bonnie Feld in a spectacular gown designed for the occasion.

This will be Sarasota's 16th annual American Cancer Society Gala. The Felds join Jennifer and Greg Steube as co-chairs of the event. Dr. Charles and Lisa Lowe are honorary chairs

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.

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