What’s the power of a single gift? Just one thoughtful donation can propel innovation, speed discovery or provide kindling for a new idea.
Through their generosity to MD Anderson, these donors are examples of many who have a direct impact on a better, healthier future.
Discovering new hope
Many women with ovarian, uterine, cervical or other gynecological cancers face major surgery, lengthy hospitalization and recovery times, as well as high rates of complications, including infertility.
But, backed by a substantial gift from a grateful former patient, the Innovative Surgery team in Gynecologic Oncology is pioneering ways to give women better choices and brighter futures.
“Innovation and excellence are my passions,” the anonymous donor says. “This program exemplifies innovation. The surgeons’ persistently honed skills and teaching of those skills to others are evidence of their dedication to excellence.”
Developing new minimally invasive, conservative and fertility-sparing surgical techniques is the major goal of the program. The team also is dedicated to training the next generation of surgeons and conducting groundbreaking research.
The seven specialists are prolific investigators, with 16 prospective clinical trials and 30 retrospective trials among them. The gift also made it possible to use an advanced database to analyze current and historical patient outcomes.
“This gift has had a profound impact on clinical trials whose findings have changed patient care for all women with gynecologic cancers,” says Pedro Ramirez, M.D., professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, who leads the team.
Faith in the future
Addi Bender was just a toddler when a rare, aggressive brain tumor claimed her life. But she lives on through pioneering research conducted on cells taken from her tumor. Addi’s Faith Foundation, which her parents established in 2008, helps fund the work of Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., associate professor in Pediatrics. She’s developing a groundbreaking therapy for treating childhood brain cancer. The promising strategy combines immunotherapy with drugs that remodel chromatin architecture, an approach that’s expected to boost effectiveness and minimize toxicity.
The immunotherapy portion enters Phase I clinical trials soon; the drugs are being tested in animal models.
“It’s been important to have Addi’s cells to help us find possible answers, and the donations from Addi’s Faith help drive the innovative research,” Gopalakrishnan says.
The foundation’s main event is a 5k/10k run/walk and kids’ fun run, which in six years has grown to include more than 2,000 participants who raise more than $150,000 annually. The event grows every year, and Addi’s mother, Amber, feels like it’s just the beginning.
“The best is yet to come,” she says. “We’re going to keep plugging away to be sure this research happens, and we’re not going to stop until there’s a cure.”
Preparing the next generation
Mistakes in judgment and decision-making are major contributors to medical errors. Yet physician education often is an unfunded mandate.
The Howell B. Pennington Endowment Fund for mesothelioma and thoracic surgical oncology education, established in 2005 by Lisa K. LeBlanc in memory of her late husband, helps MD Anderson address this crucial need. The first gift dedicated to mesothelioma research and education at the institution, the fund has potential to impact cancer care now and into the future.
“It was important to both of us to help discover ways that help more patients with this type of cancer, as well as assist their caregivers in understanding the disease and how best to support their loved ones,” she says.
The fund allows Ara Vaporciyan, M.D., professor in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, to expand educational programs on several levels, including financial support to interns, purchasing books and teaching tools and simulation activities to provide important hands-on training.
“My work is focused on education as a solution to a major flaw in our health care system,” Vaporciyan says. “By training highly competent, safe and cost-effective surgeons, we can expand the impact MD Anderson makes to a much wider audience.”
Each donor can — and does — make a difference in the advancements happening daily at MD Anderson. Whether it’s to blaze new trails in research, explore novel treatments or provide essential training to up-and-coming experts, every gift is essential.
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