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Paying it forward

Kindness of strangers inspires the Haasch family’s generosity


By Miriam Smith

 Werner Haasch and his wife, Elizabeth, enjoy an active lifestyle and are
grateful for the care Werner received at
MD Anderson. Photos courtesy of
the Haasch family.

A World War II survivor, hiking enthusiast, and now, a man who’s defeated cancer,
74-year-old Werner Haasch, of Palm Harbor, Fla., has a zest for life unmatched by many his age.

When Haasch was 6, Polish soldiers forced his family out of their home in Germany. With nowhere to turn, Haasch’s mother wrote to distant relatives in Wisconsin for help. Unbeknownst to the Haasches, those relatives had died. The post office forwarded the letter to another family who sent the Haaschs care packages for the next five years.

“They came from heaven,” says Haasch.

“It was complete, blind generosity,” says Haasch’s daughter, Fran, of The Fran Haasch Law Group in Palm Harbor.

It wasn’t the last time generosity would play a major role in Haasch’s life.

 Werner and Elizabeth Haasch with Fran Haasch Jones, her husband, Rhett, and their children, Pierce and Henry.

In late 2013, Haasch was diagnosed with a rare head and neck cancer, and his doctor suggested radiation and partial removal of his tongue. Fran’s priority was for her dad to maintain good quality of life, so she researched other options.

“To imagine him losing his hearing, vision or speech was unacceptable,” Fran says. “I found Dr. Frank at MD Anderson and started getting familiar with proton therapy.”

Fran learned that Steven Frank, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center, is a pioneer of intensity modulated proton therapy (IMPT), a treatment that attacks cancer cells yet minimizes damage to surrounding tissues and organs. Even before she and her father had met the doctor, Fran was so impressed with Frank’s work that she donated $100,000 to his research.

Haasch completed his treatment in December and is thrilled to return to his active lifestyle. The family plans to visit Greenland this year.

“It’s absolutely necessary that I stay alive to spend time with my grandchildren and travel the world with them,” Haasch says. “Dr. Frank gave me that opportunity. I owe him my life.”

The family who helped Haasch survive World War II endowed him with a deep commitment to altruism, which is now fully instilled in Fran.

“IMPT is the future for head and neck cancer, and I’ll keep donating so more people can preserve their quality of life,” Fran says. “I couldn’t be more grateful for MD Anderson.”

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center