DAVIE (CBSMiami) -- Former President Bill Clinton received a prestigious award in South Florida on Friday night -- the inaugural Joe DiMaggio American Icon Award at a fundraiser for the children's hospital that bears the name of the former New York Yankee great.
The former president also joked that "I hope that my coming helps you raise a little more money," for the hospital.
From the outset of his remarks, after being introduced by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, President Clinton made clear his admiration for the work done by the men and woman at the hospital.
"I believe in the mission of this hospital," he said.
Clinton captivated the crowd on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie, speaking about advancements in medical science that have saved the lives of countless children at children's hospitals across the country.
"None of this research would have been possible without people like you," Clinton told the crowd, "There will always be needs because the more you can do, you more you have to do."
Officials with the Joe DiMaggio's Children's Hospital say the hospital handled more than 600-thousand pediatric emergency department visits in 2012. Kevin Janser, Senior Vice President of the Joe Dimaggio Children's Foundation, said they expected to raise about $1 million dollars through Friday's fundraiser and that Clinton was the ideal recipient of the award, which was given on the 100th anniversary of DiMaggio's birth.
"We believe that Joe Dimaggio truly was an American icon," Janser said. "If you look he wasn't just a great baseball player. He transcended sport to become someone who is remembered as an American Icon. What we're looking at is people who are in that realm. People who transcend and we believe President Clinton certainly transcends the world politics. He's done so much through the Clinton Foundation around the entire world."
Former Florida Marlin Jeff Conine has been a supporter of the hospital for more than a decade.
"They treat you like family," Conine said. "You feel very comforted and warm. They make that hospital look like it's not a hospital."
And the audience heard a moving, personal story of how the doctors and staff at the hospital change the lives of children from a former patient, C.J. George. His story of survival in overcoming cancer brought the crowd to its' feet. So did the words of President Clinton, who urged the community to continue financially supporting the hospital while also taking good care of themselves to avoid precious healthcare dollars being wasted.
"When you free that money up you're making it possible for our economy to grow better and for more of the miracles they bring every day in America's children's hospitals to occur," Clinton said.
The head of the Children's Foundation told CBS 4 News the money raised will be used for several purposes including expanding the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and the hospital's emergency department.
for more features.