Dr. Oz lands in Mooresville for a cause

A six-seat helicopter landed on fairway No. 1 at Mooresville Golf Course last week, and out stepped one of America's most famous surgeons: Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The course is near the home of World War II veteran Mitchell Mack and his wife, Dolores, where Dr. Oz would soon be treated to heart-healthy Lebanese dishes: baba ganoush, homemade yogurt and "the priest fainted" (a recipe of roasted eggplant topped with a tomato sauce and stuffed with ground beef and spices).

It was a wonderful meal, Oz told me when I drove with him from the Macks' home Wednesday afternoon to the Charles Mack Citizen Center, where he addressed about 325 people to raise money for HealthReach Community Clinic.

But it was "the sacredness of coming together as a family unit to eat food" that mattered, too, he said.

With Oz were longtime friends John and Christy Mack. John Mack is a Mooresville native, Mitchell Mack's cousin and chairman of New York-based Morgan Stanley & Co.

The Mack family has given generously to many local causes, including financial help to open HealthReach and the Charles Mack Citizen Center.

John Mack did it again last week, taking the microphone before Oz did to announce that his foundation would match the final amount raised in ticket sales, HealthReach executive director Rory Crawford said.

Tickets raised $18,400 and sponsorships another $9,000. Mack is expected to donate about $19,000, Crawford said. All told, that represents six weeks of the whole clinic's operating expenses, he said.

The audience included about 70 people who'd paid $200 each to attend a private reception with Oz after his talk. Tickets to his talk were $40. Dignitaries on hand included NASCAR legend Richard Petty and his wife, Linda.

Others chipped in behind the scenes just to make the doctor's appearance possible.

Booking a six-seat helicopter to get Oz from a noon appearance on WBTV (channel 3) in Charlotte turned into an almost full-time job for the clinic's volunteer fundraising chairman, Bruce Kemmler. Such helicopters are nearly impossible to get because they're booked months in advance, he said.

Kemmler used his longtime NASCAR contacts to help secure a helicopter, which came from a company in Orlando, Fla. He owns Kemmler Products, which makes high-impact padding for motorsports and other businesses.

Mooresville-based NASCAR driver Greg Biffle donated the cost of the flight and had his pilot, Gary Ernst, fly it from Charlotte.

Cindy Davenport spent many weeks securing sponsorships. She's the director of development at HealthReach and a good friend who helped schedule my ride with Oz.

I ended up scrapping the questions I had for Oz in favor of ones I got from audience members an hour before his appearance.

Lucy Hall, 58, of Charlotte said with a smile that she's a Dr. Oz groupie. "It's embarrassing at my age," she said.

Hall, who owns Curves in Mooresville, asked me to ask Oz the top three things he'd suggest people do that afternoon to improve their health.

Walk at a pace that makes you breathe heavily, Oz said. Eat foods that have no food labels, meaning foods straight from the ground or trees. And have a meaningful passion.

Ask Oz how he does it all, from hosting the show to performing surgeries each week to writing books, Ingrid "Inky" Pruitt said.

"I only do the things that give me energy," Oz answered, and he farms out what doesn't, such as doing his taxes, writing checks or balancing the checkbook.

Davenport and HealthReach volunteer Amy Daniel asked me to get his thoughts on the health effects of powder makeup. Could it be causing Davenport's bronchitis, Daniel's sinus infections?

Oz said he couldn't rule it out. Just consider the chemicals in such products, he said.

Oz was by now walking into the center, and, soon, to a standing ovation and many more questions.

On his own time, for no fee, just for one worthy cause.