At UMHS, the Season of Giving Lasts 365 Days a Year

Once again, it’s the ‘season of giving.’ Medical students recently hit the cold and snowy streets of Ann Arbor to collect donations during Galen’s Tag Days 2013. Members of the Detroit Red Wings decked our halls to bring smiles to patients’ (and employees’) faces. And people don festive holiday ties, sweaters and socks to bring a little bit of joy into an ordinary day. Each December, I am energized by the spirit of cheer and generosity that is amplified this time of year.

I’ve written before on the topic of giving back as a way to make the world a better place. At UMHS, we don’t have to look beyond our own walls to witness and experience many inspiring examples of people of all ages and abilities giving back in meaningful ways.

Consider musician-composer Paul Skripnik who, at the age of 29, put on a patient gown and prepared to undergo an operation surgery that he hoped would alleviate him of the daily threat of seizures and allow him to do what he loves most – write and play music. For Paul, living with epilepsy meant living with a troublesome burden that left him afraid to walk on the sidewalk, cross the street or drive. He longed for treatment that would give him hope and health, and he found both as a patient in the UMHS Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. After a series of tests and consultations, the epilepsy care team led by Drs. Simon Glynn and Oren Sagher determined a treatment plan for Paul. In September 2011, he underwent a successful brain surgery that eliminated his seizures. This year, Paul celebrated a year and a half of seizure-free living with a concert featuring his original compositions. Additionally, in October, he performed and participated in a lecture as part of U-M’s Investing in Ability Week. Paul has turned his challenging experience into an opportunity to give back by increasing awareness and generating support for others living with epilepsy.

Then, there are wonderful people like Pat and Frank Ducato. Seven years ago, Frank experienced life-saving care at UMHS. In 2009, the couple decided to give back as volunteers in the Comprehensive Cancer Center. One afternoon each week, Pat provides assistance as a greeter at the CCC main lobby courtesy desk, while Frank helps patients and visitors access important cancer information as a volunteer in the Patient Education Resource Center. When interviewed for a story published last fall, Frank recalled giving some coloring books and cancer literature to the children of a mom undergoing breast cancer treatment. He remembered the husband coming up to him during the family’s next visit to thank him and say that after the children read the literature, they treated their mother differently. In Frank’s own words, he conveys the power of giving: “You get so much from being able to help somebody like that.”

And, finally, I was recently reminded of the extraordinary and generous act of a very special fourth-grader named Maya. A few years ago, when annual giving officer Kathy Valley opened one of many holiday cards, she found three one-dollar bills and the following message: “Here is the last of my Christmas money. Please use it to take care of people with cancer, from Maya.”

Generosity comes in all types and sizes. Whether it is $3, three hours of volunteer service, three handmade quilts or three months of participation in a clinical trial, every act of giving contributes to our greater mission to help and heal.

Charles Dickens, author of the classic holiday novella A Christmas Carol, once said “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

This might be the time of year when society most publicly encourages and displays the spirit of generosity, but here at the University of Michigan Health System, the season of giving lasts 365 days a year. This is a place where generosity and compassion drive the important work we do each and every day, and we couldn’t do what we do as well as we do it without our exceptional faculty, staff, students, volunteers, philanthropists, advocates, friends and supporters.

Enjoy “Never Doubt,” a slideshow that celebrates giving at UMHS, and feel free to share your experiences with generosity in the comments section below.

Thanks for all that you do!

Happy holidays!

Thank you, Rich & Susan Rogel

UDE, Elizabeth Lange

Susan & Rich Rogel

Today, the University announced an incredible gift from an extraordinary couple – Rich and Susan Rogel. Rich and Susan have given the University $50 million — $30 million for medical school scholarships, $10 million for the U-M Center for Chinese Studies and $10 million for future U-M initiatives.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the Rogels’ amazing demonstration of support for our University, our Health System and our mission to serve others and cultivate future generations of leaders and best. At the same time, I am not surprised that Rich and Susan would make such a gift. No matter what might be happening in their own lives, they are always looking for ways to help others and make the world a better place. They’ve done this by funding scholarships in the Ross School of Business, the School of Social Work, and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in addition to the Medical School.  They partnered with us to create the Max Rogel Research Fellowship in Pancreatic Cancer and the Allen H. Blondy Research Fellowship for Melanoma. And most recently, when they experienced the painful and tragic loss of Susan’s daughter last year, they honored her by establishing the Ilene Ross Joseph Memorial Fund in Personalized Medicine.

In addition to generous gifts of dollars, Rich has given us an even more valuable gift over the years by volunteering his time, energy and vision in a number of advisory roles. I have been privileged to work closely with Rich in his role as a longstanding member of the Health System Advisory Group, which is a small group of external volunteers who are very dedicated to Michigan and to our Health System, and provide strategic counsel and input on a variety of matters relevant to our tripartite mission.

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Left to Right: Professor Qiudan Sun, Director of the Office of International Cooperation at Peking University Health Science Center; Ora Pescovitz; Rich Rogel; Professor Xian Wang, Vice-president of Peking University Health Science Center.

Then, last May, I had the unique privilege of spending time in China with Rich and experiencing the country through his eyes. A true citizen of the world, Rich has been a wonderful supporter of our Health System’s and University’s important collaborations with universities in China, even to the point of establishing the Richard Rogel China Research and Travel Endowment fund in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Rich believes in the amazing possibilities that can emerge through global entrepreneurship, medical innovation and scholarship opportunities for University of Michigan faculty and students. Of memorable note, while we were in China Rich also introduced me to some of the spiciest food I have ever eaten. In addition to a heart of gold, that man has a mouth of steel!

And now, once again, Rich honors us with his time, energy and vision by agreeing to serve as chair of the Health System component of the Victors for Michigan Campaign. I cannot think of a more gifted, inspiring, dedicated and articulate person to lead our Health System campaign and serve as our champion.

Rich is a brilliant and adept businessman and entrepreneur, who believes in using his own success to enable that of others. He is a man who embraces new and different ideas and perspectives, and creates opportunities for others to do so, as well.  He is someone I consider a great friend and role model, who has encouraged me to grow and be a better leader and person. And he is true Blue.

Thank you Rich, and thank you Susan. We are so fortunate to have you as our Victors.

 

From Student to Sponsor: Alumni Play Important Role in Lives of Future Leaders & Best

Creating the Future of Health Care . . . Through Philanthropy             

A few weeks ago, the University of Michigan Medical School officially welcomed the newest class of medical students to our campus – 172 aspiring physicians chosen from more than 5,440 applicants, and coming from 33 states and 73 undergraduate colleges and universities.

In our classrooms, laboratories and clinics, 1,200 medical and graduate students work with our world-class faculty as they prepare to join the ranks of the nation’s best-trained physicians and scientists. These students will become part of the legacy of thousands of alumni whose contributions to medical science have resulted in advances that have expanded the boundaries of knowledge and saved countless lives.

One important reason the University of Michigan is able to attract the best and the brightest to our Medical School is because of the generous philanthropic support of scholarships. And not surprisingly, nowhere is that generosity more evident than in contributions made to scholarships by our alumni.michigan-matching-initiative-for-student-support

There are nearly 20,000 U-M Medical School alumni spread across the world. Members of this community have done so much to offer students the opportunity to pursue their dreams – they serve as mentors, they host students in their homes during resident interviews and they invest financially in future learners.

Today, more than ever, the need for scholarship support is critical. The decline in state funding of public education has been a long and difficult trend, and funding for medical education is no exception. The average medical student now graduates with more than $125,000 in debt, forcing many to pursue the most lucrative specialties rather than follow their passions.

Through scholarship support, our alumni – and others who invest in students –play a critical role in keeping U-M among the elite American medical schools. Scholarships not only enhance the institution, but they also make a direct and meaningful impact on individual students – to them, these gifts of support mean the world.

The following video captures the tremendous impact of scholarships perfectly, as one of our bright and passionate medical students, Jessica Pedersen, says thank you to orthopedic surgeon Jerjis Denno (M.D., 1981) for investing in her education. This year, Jessica begins a pediatric residency in Grand Rapids, continuing her dream to provide care to children in underserved areas of Michigan.

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:

Our Partnership with Michigan Athletics

Creating the Future of Health Care . . . Through Philanthropy

Since 1991, hundreds of U-M student-athletes have dedicated their Thursday evenings to visiting patients and families at our University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. This partnership can profoundly affect the young students as much as it delights our young patients. For many of the athletes, this experience marks the beginning of a commitment to Mott that continues well after they leave the university.

During their time as Wolverine students and football players, Brian Griese, Steve Hutchinson and Charles Woodson were inspired by this tradition, and since then they have become transformational leaders in supporting advancements in children’s health. Brian and Steve founded Champions for Children’s Hearts in 2007 to raise money for the Mott Children’s Hospital and its Congenital Heart Center. Charles joined them in 2011, establishing the Charles Woodson Research Fund. Together, they have inspired former teammates, coaches, sponsors, fans and participants from across the country to support Mott.

Last month, more than 1,000 people who care about kids gathered in Ann Arbor to celebrate the seventh annual Griese/Hutchinson/Woodson Champions for Children’s Hearts events, including more than 100 former U-M student-athletes, NFL stars, celebrities and coaches. The annual three-day gathering features an 11-hour radio-a-thon, a gala dinner with a live auction, and a golf tournament, and has raised more than $6 million to improve care for our pediatric patients.

The event serves as a powerful example of a remarkable journey of philanthropy, fostered by the caring culture of our U-M student-athlete community that has been a Michigan tradition for decades. I am so grateful for the exemplary philanthropic leadership that Brian, Steve and Charles have shown for the community here at the University of Michigan. I’m also grateful for our ongoing partnership with Michigan Athletics and the support our Michigan Men and Women give to UMHS in countless ways.

Please enjoy this video, which beautifully captures the essence of this inspiring relationship between our Health System and Michigan Athletics:

Creating the Future Through Philanthropy: Every Interaction Counts

Last month, I received an email from the UMHS Office of Development that said: I am delighted to inform you of a gift agreement we recently received [from Dr. Eva Schaff-Blass and her husband Josef] to establish the Ora H. Pescovitz Honorary Scholarship Fund in your honor. This scholarship will be awarded to an M4 student this year.

To say I was surprised is an understatement! I was incredibly moved, honored and humbled by this act of generosity.

I first met fellow endocrinologist Dr. Eva Schaff-Blass in 2000, when I delivered Pediatric Grand Rounds and the Endocrine Visiting Lecture at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was an associate professor of Pediatrics there at the time. Our paths crossed again in 2005 when Eva became a professor of Clinical Pediatrics and associate director of General Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. This was soon after I had become president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children, where Eva performed her clinical duties. At that time, I also was a professor of Pediatrics and served as executive associate dean for Research Affairs at IU, so it was only natural that we would have some professional interactions. During one such encounter, Eva referenced the positive impact that my lecture in 2000 had on her and her colleagues, and she told me that she learned a lot from my leadership style. I was flattered and proud. Two years later, Eva went back to North Carolina to serve as medical director of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NC, and two years after that I took my position here at Michigan.

What I didn’t fully register until I received that email last month was that Eva has maize and blue in her blood!  She attended U-M medical school and completed her residency here in the Department of Pediatrics. Later, she returned to U-M to earn a Masters of Public Health. Additionally, her son is a U-M graduate, her husband received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University, and her father, Adam Schaff, a philosophy professor at the Warsaw University, received an honorary degree from the University of Michigan in 1967. To make this scholarship gift at a time when I am maize and blue myself is truly fantastic, and it pays homage to our proud U-M tradition.

Philanthropic giving is vital to our institution and to the future of medicine, especially at a time of shrinking federal funding. But, philanthropy is much more than just a money channel.

Philanthropy is a way to create personal and meaningful transformations for donors and for the faculty, students, staff and institutions that benefit from their generosity. It is a way that individuals and families who have been touched by UMHS can give back and create a powerful and long-lasting connection to the work that we do. It connects the present to the future.

I have heard generosity called a “gate” — a doorway through which we enter into deeper relationships with those to whom we have given or from whom we have received. I would add that it’s also a portal that connects us to a larger community seeking to make the world a better place.

Beginning today and regularly on Medicine That Speaks, I will highlight stories that demonstrate the critical role philanthropy plays in our mission. To start, I want to share a video that is a beautiful example of the impact our donors – many of whom are patients – make on our work. It features Dr. Lawrence Marentette, director of U-M’s Cranial Base program, talking about the selfless gift given by Matthew Vogel, a young patient with an untreatable rare tumor.

After watching the video, Matthew’s parents had this to say: “We think this is a beautiful tribute to Matthew and it certainly expresses Matthew’s one wish – to do whatever he could to defeat this awful disease, if not for himself, for others.… We can only hope that it will inspire others to support the ongoing research that has already made a difference in people’s lives.”

Like Matthew and his family, the hundreds of generous donors who support our work are true partners.  We are creating the future of health care together – through discovery, and through philanthropy. If you have a story to share, please email Amy Bunch, senior director of Development Strategic Communications, at amybunch@umich.edu.