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: