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Straight to the heart of the matter

Promise -

Couple helps those who help others

By Victor Scott

Linda and Joe Penland of Beaumont, Texas, give from the heart. And it’s from the heart that, in return for the care the couple received at MD Anderson, they’re giving back to the institution in a big way.

Linda received treatment for breast cancer at MD Anderson in 2005, and Joe was treated for kidney cancer in 2009. The special attention from staff during the couple’s surgeries, rehabilitation and follow-up appointments inspired the couple to fund the Heart of MD Anderson Award, a monthly peer-selected award for employees who exemplify the institution’s core values of caring, integrity and discovery. What’s more, they decided to increase the cash prize from $200 to $1,000 per month.

“The people at MD Anderson are just so nice,” says Penland. “It doesn’t matter what your needs are, everyone is genuine. There’s nothing you could ask of the staff that they wouldn’t do to help you or your family feel more comfortable. And it’s always with a smile.”

Empathy abounds

Linda and Joe Penland made their contribution to the 
Heart of MD Anderson Award retroactive to benefit all 
2011 recipients: from left, Meide Liu, Christopher 
Carrizal, Janice Schwarz, Marilyn Dawlett, Creola Brown, 
Eliane Sayeghe, Alfred Raven, Reginald Phipps, Elsy 
Puthenparampil, Sherri Patterson, Kimberly Williams 
and Linda Duggan. Photo by John Everett

Alfred Raven, for example, is a nursing assistant who cared for Penland during a 17-day stay after his second surgery at MD Anderson.

“I try to put myself in the patient’s situation,” says Raven. “They’re already dealing with the burden of cancer, so you need to be as helpful and positive as possible. Being a good listener goes a long way.”

When the Penlands asked how they might recognize such excellence in employees and learned about the Heart of MD Anderson Award, they were pleasantly surprised when they opened the award information packet and saw a photo of Raven as the January 2011 recipient.

“It sent a chill up my spine,” says Penland.  “We decided that the award is definitely something we need to fund and that the winners deserve to receive more money.”

Paying it forward

In September 2011, the Penlands made a donation that would increase the cash award to $1,000 monthly. They insisted that each of the previous winners for that year be given a retroactive gift of $800.

“When it was announced at Managers Forum, a meeting of managers throughout the institution, the first reactions were gasps from the audience followed by murmurs and then applause,” says Kathy Lang, employee recognition specialist and coordinator of the Heart of MD Anderson Award.  “Since then we’ve had more than twice the number of nominations. This is an award that can have an impact on all our employees and really lift their spirits.”

The Penlands, who say they’re blessed not only in their business but also with family, employees and friends, are glad they’ve found a way to reward “the best of humanity.”

“Linda and I are so grateful for all that we have,” says Penland. “We see the best of humanity in the employees who work here. It’s in their hearts and souls to do good, and they truly are the heart of MD Anderson.”

Make a donation to the Heart of MD Anderson Award and other recognition programs at


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center