With COVID-19 necessitating extra safety measures on MD Anderson's campus, many patients may be navigating appointments and hospital stays without the presence of family and friends. Most patients rely on their phones to keep track of multiple visits. Without these technological lifelines, patients can feel vulnerable, unable to pull up schedules and contact information to help them get through their day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the landscape of patient care, family and friends of William Evans “Willie” Tichenor, an MD Anderson patient who passed away in 2006 at age 19, considered the question that led them to launch a foundation in his memory: “What Would Willie Want?” Having spent three years as Willie’s devoted caregivers, they have a firsthand understanding of patients’ need to connect.
The WWWW Foundation Inc., also known as QuadW, has stepped up to provide a gift that reflects Willie’s spirit of giving and compassion. Recognizing the need for patients to connect digitally with caregivers and clinicians, QuadW is funding the purchase of phone chargers for clinical areas throughout MD Anderson. The foundation has committed to support the multiphase project with an initial gift of $65,000. The foundation also funded the Willie Tichenor Fellowship supporting MD Anderson’s Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant for sarcoma.
“For us, the thought of patients fighting for their lives, while also living through the anxieties of the coronavirus, is very troublesome,” says Lauren Jordan of New York, an advisory director on the QuadW board. “Willie had to undergo years of treatments, surgeries, setbacks and challenges. It was important for him to be supported by his family and peers. We are thrilled that we can help the patient community stay in touch with loved ones, share vital information during such trying times and feel supported so that they can focus on the road to recovery.”
Legacy of giving
In spring 2003, Willie, a high school junior, visited several doctors to find the source of the pain that had developed in his leg. One evening he noticed a lump above his knee. An osteosarcoma diagnosis meant enduring chemotherapy, blood transfusions, multiple surgeries and hospital stays. Accompanied by family and friends, the ebullient teen barely missed a beat. He graduated from high school, performed in concerts with his band, led a youth-group mission trip to Mexico and enrolled in the Plan II Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
“His friends would be piled onto his hospital bed in Houston,” Lauren says. “Campouts in the Tichenors’ living room post-surgeries were a normal occurrence.”
Engaged in living every minute of his life, Willie pushed ahead. “I love the feeling that I get when I make a difference in someone else’s life,” he confided to a friend on the mission trip.
Unfortunately, treatment options could not keep pace with the young man’s will to live. Willie died two months before his 20th birthday.
“We came to the realization that his days were numbered, and we talked about what he wanted his legacy to be,” says Mac Tichenor Jr., a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors. “Willie said, ‘Take care of my friends, and try to help other people who get this disease have a better outcome than I did.’ ”
That legacy is reflected in QuadW’s mission, which focuses on three areas that Willie considered priorities:
- Support efforts to find a cure
- Create opportunities for personally transforming mission experiences
- Enable opportunities in higher education
Willie’s parents, Lisa and Mac Tichenor of Dallas, and his brother, Taylor, appointed eight of his close friends to the foundation’s board of directors. Their energy and expertise channel Willie’s wishes in pursuit of these goals.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way scientists perform day-to-day research and discover treatment opportunities that could lead to finding a cure and extending patient’s lives,” says Charlie Haggard of Los Angeles, another advisory director. “Simple tasks, like the ability to charge your phone, have become more difficult and more necessary. This gift is meant to be a small but meaningful step in helping doctors and patients stay more connected and plugged in.”
In a time when many patients feel isolated, this thoughtful gesture will ensure that loved ones are only a text or call away.
“This gift of connection advances the mission of QuadW,” Charlie says. “If our donation can in any way help contribute to a stable environment, then we see it as fulfilling Willie’s wishes.”