You might think that a Nobel Laureate could, well, rest on his laurels. Or take a moment to absorb the accolades.
When UW Medicine researchers Edmond H. (Eddy) Fischer, Ph.D., and the late Edwin G. Krebs, M.D., accepted their Nobel in 1992, however, they were quick to draw a broad circle around their accomplishment — the discovery of a protein modification that became vastly important to medical science. “This really isn’t for us,” the two biochemists said. “It’s for all the people we’ve worked with and everybody in the field.”
That statement shows a profound generosity of spirit — one also shown by our donors, the 15,880 people and organizations who contributed to UW Medicine’s work in research, patient care and education over the past year. In the pages that follow, you’ll read about contributors like you: people who look beyond their own interests to support everything from relieving chronic pain, to student scholarships, to recruiting faculty superstars like Eddy Fischer and Ed Krebs.
With every gift you make, you support our mission: improving the health of the public. Thank you for your generosity.
Lynn K. Hogan
Chief Advancement Officer, UW Medicine, and
Associate Vice President for Medical Affairs
University of Washington
15,880 individuals and organizations
Of interest: 2,407 UW Medicine alumni gave $1.7 million in gifts and grants over the past fiscal year.
Of interest: UW Medicine received more than $3 million from donors who gave through their estates.
Many contributors created or augmented endowments, invested funds that support UW Medicine’s work in perpetuity. More than $6.2 million in gifts and grants were directed to the endowment in the last fiscal year..
“I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to pay this bill,” Marijo Brantner told the woman processing her payment to Airlift Northwest. “Without your organization, I would be a widow.”
Marjio’s 58-year-old husband, Steve, became ill while traveling in May 2011. Back home again in Juneau, Alaska, he was tired and missed a week of work. His doctor thought he might have pneumonia. A few days later, the Brantners’ friend Cris, a nurse, urged them to go to the ER at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
Steve was having trouble absorbing oxygen, and his blood platelet count had dwindled to 12,000 per microliter (less than 10 percent of normal). The hospital had no replacement platelets.
What happens when you’re deathly ill in a town like Juneau — accessible only by boat or plane — and you need specialized care? You’re flown by a medical transport service to the closest site that can help. In Steve’s case, Bartlett called Airlift Northwest.
Airlift Northwest, part of the UW Medicine health system, has bases in Arlington, Bellingham, Juneau, Olympia and Seattle. The service transports approximately 3,500 patients per year to various hospitals, and it is a link to survival for people in the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
“Pilots and nurses have to be available 24 hours a day,” says Chris Martin, R.N., BSN, Airlift Northwest’s executive director. And the nurses have to be ready to take care of incredibly sick patients, from the smallest baby to the 6’6”-tall Steve Brantner.
To this day, Steve doesn’t know why he got sick. Nor do his doctors. They do know that he was septic by the time he reached the hospital. His kidneys had failed, both of his lungs had started to hemorrhage, and he arrived just in time to stay alive. “The critical-care unit doctor said we got there with maybe a half-hour to spare,” says Steve.
“Airlift gives the gift of time,” says Marijo. Enough time for Steve to receive the care that a larger city hospital could provide. In gratitude, the Brantners decided to make a gift to Airlift Northwest.
Martin notes that Airlift is not the same as the fire department, where emergency services are paid by taxpayers. And, as is the case at UW Medicine’s other entities, Airlift provides care whether or not someone is insured or capable of paying. Gifts like the Brantners’, whether they underwrite Airlift’s costs or help purchase equipment, provide valuable support. It’s support that the Brantners are thankful to give.
“We wanted to help provide the same miracle for someone else,” says Steve.
There are good high-school guidance counselors and bad ones. Unfortunately, Julie S. Vath, M.D. ’00, had the latter.
“When I was in high school, I completely bombed a geometry quarter,” says Julie. Her guidance counselor’s recommendation: in the future, steer clear of math and science.
Julie took the advice to heart, majoring in English with an emphasis on creative writing, until the fateful quarter where she had to fulfill the University of Washington’s science requirement. “That physics class changed my entire life,” says Julie. “I realized I wanted to go into medicine.”
In contrast, her husband, Brian Vath, M.D. ’00, Res. ’03, ’06, grew up in a medical family. His dad, Ray Vath, M.D., was a graduate of the UW School of Medicine’s Class of 1965. And while Brian thought about other careers, he says, “I kept coming back to medicine.”
Medical school, the couple agrees, was a wonderful experience. “You get to be with extremely intelligent colleagues and dive into a field and immerse yourself fully,” says Brian. Julie has a similar memory, related to Cornelius Rosse, M.D.’s anatomy class. “I remember feeling that absolute passion for learning something in great depth…the surface was no longer good enough,” she says.
In fact, the Vaths appreciated all the faculty. “It really felt like we were being taught by people who were at the very pinnacle of their careers,” says Julie.
Years of training later, the Vaths are firmly settled in their own careers. Brian, a psychiatrist, co-founded a multi-specialty psychiatry clinic in Seattle. Julie, an anesthesiologist, is at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
The Vaths also have children, Ethan (7) and Sara (5), and having a family prompted them to draw up a will. When asked if they wanted to use their will to make a contribution to an organization important to them, the couple’s conclusion was swift and unanimous. “Both of us said ‘the UW’s medical school,’” says Brian.
The purpose of their gift is open- ended, allowing School personnel to apply it as they see fit, and the motivation behind the gift is similarly straightforward. It’s gratitude for a great education, and it’s gratitude for careers the Vaths love.
Because of the UW School of Medicine, says Brian, “Doors opened for us — anywhere we’d want to go and anything we’d want to do in the field of medicine. By supporting UW Medicine, we can pass that on.”
"I don’t know for sure what a superstar scientist is going to create,” says Ron Howell, “but I do know that good things routinely come from superstars.”
Howell, the CEO of Washington Research Foundation (WRF), knows that innovation drives research progress at the University of Washington. Making gifts to help recruit superstars — along with other contributions to the University — is part of WRF’s business cycle, which fosters the commercialization of technology.
Just a few months ago, WRF made a recruitment gift to UW Medicine supporting the creation of the Edmond H. Fischer-Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry. The chair is named in honor of emeritus faculty member Edmond H. (Eddy) Fischer, Ph.D.
Fischer is a superstar in his own right. In 1992, he and his colleague, the late Edwin G. Krebs, M.D., won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of phosphorylation, a protein modification. At the time of the discovery, says Trisha D. Davis, Ph.D., acting chair of the Department of Biochemistry, no one knew how common phosphorylation was, or how important in regulating proteins. Proteins control all bodily mechanisms, from breathing to fighting disease.
“For example, most cancers are the result of protein phosphorylation gone awry,” says Davis. “By targeting the enzymes involved in that process, scientists are developing cancer therapies.”
When Howell heard about Fischer’s groundbreaking work, he was intrigued. In part, he was interested because the man making the case for the creation of the Fischer Chair was Earl Davie, Ph.D., a distinguished UW Medicine faculty member who had collaborated with WRF on another project. Howell also saw the chair’s potential to advance the field of medicine in a substantive way.
“The accretion of knowledge is good,” says Howell, “but it’s also good to solve problems.”
The Edmond H. Fischer-Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry will allow UW Medicine to recruit an expert in biochemistry and molecular cell biology, someone who will tackle topics related to mammalian biochemistry and cancer and to cell signaling and regulation. She or he also will collaborate with scientists in the University’s new Institute for Protein Design, where researchers are creating proteins that hold promise in defeating disease.
This gift is a permanent tribute to WRF’s generosity and to Fischer’s contributions to science. More broadly, it’s a reminder of the importance of collaboration in advancing human health, a topic Fischer and Krebs touched on when they accepted their Nobel.
“This really isn’t for us,” Davis remembers the two researchers saying. “It’s for all the people we’ve worked with and everybody in the field.”
Pain physician Chan Gunn, M.D., has been on a crusade for decades. The basis of the crusade? That chronic pain is treatable. Without surgery, without pharmaceuticals, and for a relatively low cost.
“The object of this treatment is to promote the body’s ability to heal,” says Gunn. For Gunn and his trainees, this healing begins with an acupuncture needle.
Approximately 30 years ago, the Workers’ Compensation Board in British Columbia asked Gunn to find out why some people with back pain can return to work while others cannot. He began a close examination of some of the patients in question.
Gunn found that the people with debilitating back pain displayed different physical signs than their counterparts: spots on the skin that were tender, puffy and differently textured, an indication that a tender area or trigger point lay below.
Turning to physiology, Gunn connected these changes to dysfunction in nerve roots that exit from the spine at each level of the spinal column. Such dysfunction may cause a painful condition called myofascial pain syndrome. Using acupuncture needles, Gunn developed a therapy to relieve the pain.
The treatment, Gunn Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS), has been a mainstay in Heather Tick, M.D.’s practice for years. In Gunn IMS, the physician uses a needle to release the trigger points in the affected muscles and in muscles around the spinal column, lengthening them and beginning the healing process. Gunn IMS can treat long-standing myofascial disorders such as back pain, whiplash and repetitive strain injuries, among other conditions.
“I was seeing such incredibly rapid results that I really couldn’t expect to see from any other kind of technique,” Tick says of Gunn IMS. “His technique really does enable the body to heal itself from many, many injuries.”
Gunn, now 81, wants his treatment to find an ever-wider audience. That’s the impetus behind the gift he and his wife, Peggy Y. C. Gunn, made to create the Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship for Integrative Pain Medicine. “I want someone at UW Medicine who can do it,” says Gunn.
Tick, a new recruit to the University of Washington and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, is the first holder of the professorship. She’s excited about the future: bringing new treatment to local patients, and studying the outcomes of Gunn IMS and other integrative approaches to pain with the research experts around her.
“We need other things [non-opiate options] to offer people,” says Tick. “It’s wonderful that the pain clinic has opened their direction to integrative medicine, and they’re truly embracing it.”
Dolly Turner helped put her husband, Leslie D. Turner, M.D. ’55, through medical school. It was tough. Her job as a teacher paid the princely sum of $3,020 a year, and she remembers that residents in training earned about $100 a month. “I know these numbers seem ludicrous now,” says Turner.
Today, of course, the figures would be vastly different. But the situation is not so different at all. Just as the Turners did, medical students and their families struggle with the cost of medical school — now $222,904 for a four-year education for state residents.
“Honestly, the loans and scholarships that the School of Medicine has been able to provide are what made it possible for me to come here,” says Greta Tubbesing, a second-year UW medical student and recipient of the Durward A. Huckabay, M.D. Endowed Scholarship.
Tubbesing, a Northwest native, spent a decade in the Bay Area, graduating from UC-Berkeley, volunteering at the Berkeley Free Clinic, and working in violence prevention and mental health. Becoming a physician, Tubbesing says, combines person-to-person contact, intellectual rigor and the potential for advocacy in an immensely appealing way.
“I always felt compelled to do what I can to try and make the world a more just place,” says Tubbesing.
Medical students like Tubbesing are why Tim Melhorn, M.D. ’74, medical ambassador-at-large for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Wash., is creating an endowed scholarship. “There are students who don’t have financial resources who have bright minds and compassionate hearts,” says Melhorn, “and I want them to have a chance to have the opportunities that I have been blessed with in medicine.”
Both Melhorn and Dolly Turner — who also created a scholarship, named after her husband, Les — responded to a matching scholarship challenge made by the Huckabay family, longtime supporters of medical-school scholarships. “The Huckabay match was a wonderful bonus,” says Turner.
As for the Huckabay scholarship’s influence on Tubbesing’s education? “It’s been tremendous,” she says.
We appreciate the support of other donors; they’re essentially doubling the amount of scholarships available to the students. It has been particularly gratifying to see matches coming from multiple sources, including recent graduates.
— John Huckabay
At UW Medicine, the phrase “mission of caring” is oft-used. It reflects a strong, system-wide commitment to providing excellent and compassionate care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.
No one “walks the talk” better than the people who work at UW Medicine. Take Brian Giddens, ACSW, LICSW, director of social work and care coordination at UW Medical Center. His department provides a host of services to patients, from helping plan discharges to counseling patients and families about end-of-life issues.
He and his colleagues also provide basic necessities, such as food and money for housing and gas — needs that have become more acute with the economic downturn.
“[Patients] are less able to work, and they have fewer savings to work with,” says Giddens. Although funding shortfalls affect Seattle-based patients, too, Giddens notes that people who leave their homes elsewhere to receive specialized, sometimes longer-term care in Seattle can be hit especially hard.
That’s why Giddens contributes to the Social Work Emergency Fund. “I see the need regularly,” he says, “and contributions help boost what we’re able to give.”
Carol Ridenhour, R.N., a unit discharge facilitator at Harborview Medical Center, makes a similar contribution; hers is to the Discharge Clothing Fund. “People come through the ER, and sometimes their clothes are damaged — or we have to cut off their clothes to provide treatment,” says Ridenhour. “This can be a hardship, especially for homeless people. That’s the reason I donate.”
These and other staff members support an ethic that is upheld throughout UW Medicine. In fiscal year 2011, Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center and Valley Medical Center provided approximately $250 million in medical charity care. “This represents more than one-quarter of the charity care in the entire state,” says Johnese Spisso, R.N., MPA, UW Medicine’s chief health system officer and vice president for medical affairs.
UW Medicine’s mission of caring, however, isn’t defined solely by compassion. “Dr. Ronald Maier, the chief of surgery at Harborview, has a phrase for it: ‘exceptional care, without exception,’” says Spisso. From trauma to transplant and from diabetes to cancer care, UW Medicine provides exceptional primary and specialty care. The excellence of this care is nationally recognized.
“UWMC and Harborview were recently ranked Washington’s top two hospitals by U.S. News & World Report,” says Paul Ramsey, M.D., CEO of UW Medicine. “We strive to provide the best possible care to all our patients,” says Ramsey, “and it’s great to receive this additional affirmation.”