Wally Prechter, The University of Michigan & The Fight Against Bipolar Disorder

Creating the Future of Health Care . . . Through Philanthropy

Meeting amazing people is a daily perk of working at the University of Michigan Health System. Soon after I came to Michigan, I had the great privilege of meeting Waltraud “Wally” Prechter, a generous donor and passionate advocate in the fight to treat and cure bipolar disorder. Today, I am proud to call her my friend.

Wally is an extraordinary woman of remarkable courage, passion, zeal and determination. She is a great partner to our Health System, and she is one of my personal heroes.

Twelve years ago, on July 6, 2001, Michigan’s automotive community lost one of its great visionaries when Wally’s husband, legendary business leader Heinz Prechter, committed suicide after an ongoing battle with bipolar disorder. Their daughter, Stephanie, also suffers from the disease.

Deeply motivated to find a cure, Wally turned her deep personal pain and adversity into unwavering advocacy and action. In October 2001, she established what is now known as The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at The University of Michigan Depression Center to partner with leading U-M researchers and physicians to advance understanding and treatment of bipolar disorder.

More than 20 million people nationwide suffer from mood disorders including bipolar disorder. Unlike cancer or cardiovascular disease, the stigma of mental illness prevents millions from seeking proper medical care. Former president Bill Clinton astutely said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” Currently, less than 10 percent of those suffering from depressive disorders receive adequate treatment.

Wally’s faith in our Health System’s leading scientists and overall ability to create the future of mental health care through discovery has been rewarded. Currently, we are one of only a handful of institutions in the country using stem cell models to study bipolar disorder – exciting work that already has led to new understandings about bipolar brain cells and the differences in the neurons they produce versus those produced by normal brain cells. Our faculty are now investigating whether the activity of the bipolar neurons can be altered to make them behave like healthy ones, which could ultimately lead to the development of more effective treatments. Additionally, UMHS is home to the largest long-term study of individuals with bipolar disorder, with more than 900 participants.

Wally and the incredible UMHS team associated with The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund are working together to prevent others from experiencing the pain she and her family have experienced. I am in awe of Wally’s dedication and passion to making a lasting difference in the fight against bipolar disorder and to making the world a better place.

Her story is a powerful example of how philanthropy, and the donors who give, are vital partners in our mission to create the future of health care. Wally’s story:

This post is also available in: Spanish

19 thoughts on “Wally Prechter, The University of Michigan & The Fight Against Bipolar Disorder

  1. Allison on said:

    As someone who has been close to a person suffering from bipolar disorder, I applaud this work, this effort and this passion. It is a difficult disease for those with bipolar and those who love them. Wally’s work is an inspiration.

  2. Gail Campanella on said:

    As the Chief of Staff of the UM Depression Center, I was aware of the making of this video, but saw it for the first time this morning via your “Medicine That Speaks” communication. Our thanks go out to Wally and Stephanie Prechter for courageously sharing their story that will help break down the walls of stigma and misunderstanding of bipolar disorders, and for creating the Heinz C. Prechter Fund at UMHS to further our understanding of these conditions. This video will surely inspire others to participate in the cause, but it is also a poignant reminder to those of us “on the ground” of the importance of the work being done here at Michigan. Thank you for sharing.

  3. ChrisTina Ronders on said:

    Thank you for your continued research in the fight against bipolar disorder. I lost a brother who suffered for years with this disorder and have a dear, close friend who struggles daily with this. I want to be an advocate for ‘Brian’ and anyone I come in contact with who may have this disorder; to be their voice, to let them know they are supported and loved. Thank you for your passion ans support of this research. I pray some day the stigma of any mental disorder can be wiped away.

  4. Deborah on said:

    This is very moving and inspirational. Thank you for sharing. And, thanks to the Prechter’s for their courage, passion and generosity.

  5. Herbert Ouida on said:

    Wally serves as an inspiration to so many who fight every day to find hope. Well here is a person who has seen her family members suffer as victims of this dreaded illness.Just being ao honest and willing to share her story helps those who suffer and have difficulty being honest because of the stigma attached to Bi-polar illness. She leaves behind on a daily basis a role model for all

  6. Sheila Marcus on said:

    What an inspirational and moving piece. Wally and Stephanie, thank you for your passion, zeal and continued fight on behalf of those with depressive illnesses. Your work has made a difference; beginning from those dark days in 2001. May your dedication translate into continued advances in our understanding and treatment of these painful disorders.

  7. Kim Lifton on said:

    Wally Prechter inspires me. Keep up the great work. Thank you for putting the spotlight on a person who deserves it. Wally never stops believing in a cure, and she never stops working toward her goal. I am and always have been in awe of Wally. I am proud of her. The video is great. I’ve shared it through every social network with my name on it. Hope it helps raise lots of money so Melvin McInnis can do the research he needs to wipe away this horrible disease! Wally, I am so proud of you. XO

  8. Cheryl King on said:

    Wally and Stephanie have put faces on the suffering that comes with Bipolar Disorder. Their passionate dedication to making a difference will make a REAL LIVED DIFFERENCE for many over time.

  9. Very happy to see mental illness research as a focus on the blog. Last summer’s EVPMA Newsletter (http://tinyurl.com/BPTX4ALL) caused worry that people like us who suffer daily and advocate for those who suffer were being “left out” of the spotlight of the Neuroscience Hospital.

  10. Ines Fitzpatrick on said:

    So much light indeed! What a great message to share. Thank you Wally and Stephanie for taking so many passengers on your amazing journey to find a cure for Bipolar Disorder. He would have been sehr stolz!

  11. Susan Boiko on said:

    As a medical school alum and student of a very young John Greden as then junior faculty in Psychiatry, I am thrilled to see his involvement in this essential project. As the mother of a composer I wanted to thank the composer of the music with the subtle victor theme enhancing the hope of triumph against this serious illness. And as a practicing physician I applaud the courage of Wally and Stephanie. You are the leaders and best!

  12. Abdallah Ali on said:

    As a volunteer for a clinical trial under the supervision of Dr. McInnis, I am proud of Mrs. Prechter’s courage and determination. Her family’s philanthropy has allowed for the establishment of a bipolar research fund that supports research and new opportunities for a network of patients including myself. We are able to receive world-class treatment and care through the UM Depression Center for example. We all hope the genetic repository being collected will also aid in identifying the gene combination that may be involved in the onset of bipolar disorder. This combined effort from donors, researchers, physicians, patients, and volunteers is truly the Michigan Difference. This whole effort is just another reason that I’m proud to be a UM alum too. Please continue the ground-breaking research and amazing care through the UM Health System.

  13. John F. Greden on said:

    Having the distinct privilege of being the Executive Director of the University of Michigan Depression Center I am truly moved by Dr. Pescovitz’s blog and the accompanying video and comments. Wally and Stephanie Prechter are amazing champions. Thousands more ARE joining them as voices. Stigma IS declining. However, bipolar illnesses and clinical depressions remain world leaders in health disability so clinical research breakthroughs must be our real goal. Drs. McInnis, O’Shea and an array of Michigan colleagues are working feverishly to produce such breakthroughs. Thank you, Dr. Pescovitz, Wally and Stephanie, and thanks to all the emerging supporters of this cause. Working together, we WILL succeed.

  14. Nancy Merbitz PhD on said:

    This is great work, and very good to see it prominently featured. I would only add that, like many chronic conditions, while the search for the cure of bipolar goes on, many millions of people and their families will continue living with the disorder. Treatment, including access to compassionate and pragmatic psychotherapy, is one of the keys to their quality of life, and to their ability to reach their potential. Many people with bipolar are among the most productive contributors to our society and culture. They are not waiting for a cure – they are also living their lives, and we can help them do that.

  15. Kim Barker on said:

    Wally and Stephanie, You have and will continue to touch so many lives with this research. You are true heroes in championing the fight of bipolar disorders. Thank you so much for your amazing dedication!

  16. Melvin McInnis on said:

    Thank you Stephanie and Wally for this message and your inspirational vision. Heinz, your father and husband, touched and inspired the world in countless ways.

    Your energy, courage, and optimism guides and provides encouragement to so very many people worldwide.

    Heinz lives on in the Prechter Bipolar Research. We hear his name spoken several times a week by so many who knew and admired him.

    Our goals are prevention and cure. An episode of bipolar disorder is in every way like a recurrence of cancer or a heart attack. It is life threatening. There is a lifetime of implications after an episode.

    The Prechter Bipolar Fund and programs provide opportunities for individuals with bipolar disorder to collaborate with researchers in looking for solutions and new treatments. Participating helps everyone – immediately. We often hear “I am doing so much better because I am involved in research”. Why? People are inspired by the Prechter family. Giving of one’s self provides so much.

    The value of the Prechter research reaches beyond the findings of the labs and clinics. The inspiring message and visionary expression of determination will lead to effective ways to prevent this illness and its consequences.

    Working with individuals with bipolar disorder is the most privileged of medical careers and it is a major honor for me to work with the Prechter family in these projects and serve as the principal investigator in this work. There is nothing else I would rather do. Being a part keeping folks well and engaging in the research we do is beyond words.

  17. Dawn Brown on said:

    Incredibly moving, and inspirational. These are the reasons why clinical research is our passion. Thank you for sharing this story.

  18. Gloria Harrington on said:

    Wally and Stephanie have been passionate collaborators with the Prechter Bipolar Research Team. I am privileged as the research manager to become part of the story that inspires hope. We, the research team, believe in the work that we are doing and that we will find answers. Thank you, Wally and Stephanie, for sharing your story and being an advocate for the illness and the fund.

  19. sofia merajver on said:

    Wally and Stephanie, your dream is a reality. Living with bipolar disorder is challenging and turning challenge and, of course, tragedy as you two have done, into triumph is your quest and now a reality. Living with Dr McInnis, I know first-hand, that there are not enough hours in the day to work hard enough on such a worthy fight, but you and countless others and all the patients, past and present, continue to inspire him as the leader and his amazing team to continue this work and conquer. To Life!

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