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:
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:
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 email@example.com.
When Rockefeller (Rocky) Oteng was a child living in Ghana, he noticed that people who went to Europe or the United States for their education often didn’t come back home. Instead, they stayed in those other countries to work, live and thrive. This made him wonder – Why did Ghanians have to go someplace else to become somebody?
When he was 9, Rocky and his family left Ghana and moved to Northern Virginia. He went on to earn a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College Of Medicine and then joined the University of Michigan as a resident in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Rocky always believed that there would come a time when he could help make a difference in the world. One of the reasons he chose to study emergency medicine was because it would give him knowledge and skills to help the greatest number of people. Throughout his training, the question of why Ghanians needed to leave home to be “somebody” remained on his mind, and in 2009 he decided to dedicate his work to bringing emergency medicine to Ghana.
According to Rocky, prior to 2009 the state of emergency medicine in Ghana was dismal. There were terrifying stories within the Ghanaian community of family members presenting to the hospital and dying from easily preventable causes. There were studies that showed that the acutely ill and injured people were dying at a higher rate in Ghana than in other developed nations. Rocky dreamed of doing something to change this, starting with creating an in-country emergency medicine training program.
Of course, every dream requires support and for Rocky this help came in two forms: a pilot grant from the Medical Education Partnership Initiative http://www.mepinetwork.org/, which funds medical education and research in Sub-Saharan African institutions, and matching funds provided Dr. William Barsan, who was chair of Emergency Medicine at the time.
Thus, the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative was born.
Rocky is a man of great compassion, vision and ambition. But, to build a successful Collaborative, you need partners. Fortunately, Rocky also is a Michigan (Health System) man and therefore has access to incredible mentors like Drs. Barsan, Robert Neumar, Joe Kolars and Terry Kowalenko, as well as like-minded and like-hearted colleagues, such as Sue Ann Bell, MSN, FNP-BC. Working with partners from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, the Ghana Ministry of Health and the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Oteng, Bell and the rest of the team have made great progress with the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative through exchange and in-country training programs. To date, they have graduated seven Ghanaian physicians from the residency program, with 15 more physicians and 27 nurses currently in training. Additionally, they have been engaged in efforts to continue to build an academic department and local emergency response systems. It is impressive work that will serve the people of Ghana for decades to come. Take a look:
When we talk about our Health System’s global impact, we mean more than just going into other countries to help, though that is certainly an important part. We also mean creating programs like the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative and partnering with in-country agencies, universities and governments to build sustainable and culturally-appropriate local health infrastructures and medical training programs. In doing so, we help bolster the health and productivity of citizens, communities and economies.
Today, as we celebrate Earth Day, let’s reflect on our role as global citizens.
What is/will be your global impact?