Island giving: Canceled flight inspires Carmel doctor’s annual Jamaican-themed holiday fundraising party


By Samantha Kupiainen

In 2015, Dr. Ted Nukes, a neurologist from Carmel, went on a family trip to Jamaica, unaware of the unique Christmas tradition it would inspire. It all began when his stay was extended a few days after an ice storm closed the Atlanta airport, leaving Nukes stuck on the Caribbean island.

With the extra time on his hands, Nukes got to know the staff at his resort, who ended up teaching him how to make curry chicken and jerk chicken, Jamaican staples. When Nukes returned to Indiana, he took a stab at cooking his own Jamaican food, just like the locals taught him.

Then he got an idea.

“What a fantastic thing to do would be to have a Christmas party and share all of these really cool tastes and really cool food items with our friends,” he said.

So, that’s exactly what he did.

Traditional Jamaican dishes set out for guests at Ted Nukes’ annual Christmas party fundraiser. (Photo courtesy of Ted Nukes)

Nukes hosted friends and family at his house in 2016 for his inaugural Jamaican-themed Christmas party. He served up jerk chicken, rice and beans, sharing with guests the cuisine and culture he’d grown to love.

Seven years later, Nukes still opens his home for his annual Jamaican-themed Christmas party for friends and family, but his guest list has grown to include 80 to 120 people. But now, the Christmas party also doubles as a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization of Nukes’ choice, typically one that benefits cancer patients.

“I had a very close friend of mine that was diagnosed with cancer, a type of cancer for which there is no real cure,” he said. “She really benefited immensely from the different organizations. I thought, oh my gosh, what a fantastic thing to do, pay it forward to these different charities and agencies. There was no clear plan, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Indiana Cancer Consortium estimates that 2.5 million Hoosiers, or approximately two in five people living in Indiana, will eventually develop cancer. Prostate and breast cancer are the most common types of cancer among men and women, respectively.

Annually, the Jamaican-themed Christmas party raises $2,500 to $5,000, according to Nukes. He never asks for a specific donation amount from guests. Instead, he simply asks to give if they can. This year, Nukes raised more than $2,300 for Indianapolis-based Little Red Door, which aims “to make the most of life and the least of cancer by reducing the physical, emotional and financial burdens of cancer for the medically underserved residents of central Indiana.”

Nukes invites a representative from the beneficiary nonprofit to attend the party to share more about its mission. This year, Robyn Burroughs, Little Red Door development officer and volunteer manager, attended.

“It was an honor to be there as their selected charity,” Burroughs said. “It was fun, and we had many meaningful conversations with people who had been impacted by cancer.”

In addition to food and fundraising, Nukes also brings in a band to provide entertainment, and they typically let Nukes sing a song or two with them. This year he had local band 3:1 (Three To One) play, which covers The Beatle and Grateful Dead and plays some reggae music.

Moving forward, Nukes doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. If anything, he’s eyeing the possibility of selecting a different party venue that can accommodate his guest list better than his house can.

“I have a little bug in me to try and expand this to make it a larger facility where you have five to six local bands and roll it into a wine tasting, and people would come and donate,” he said. “I want to continue doing this as long as I’m able to.”

Cover band 3:1 (Three To One) at Ted Nukes’ Jamaican-themed Christmas party benefiting Little Red Door. (Photo courtesy of Ted Nukes)

Meet Ted Nukes

Dr. Ted Nukes is originally from Akron, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, and a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College, now known as a Sidney Kimmel Medical College. His initial interest in becoming a doctor stems from driving a person to the hospital who was having a medical emergency when he was 19 years old.

“He went into the emergency room and the doc immediately knew what medicine to give him and how to treat,” Nukes said. “I thought, ‘I want to be like that guy.’”

Nukes opened his own practice in 1996, which Ascension St. Vincent purchased in the early 2010s. After parting ways with Ascension St. Vincent, Nukes accepted his first travel medicine assignment in February and is practicing in Richmond, Ind.