A Foundation of Support for Gastrointestinal Cancer Research
Gifts Memorialize Loved Ones and Support the GI Oncology Research and Patient Care Initiative at UAB
In partnership with community leaders concerned about gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, UAB has the opportunity to move to the forefront in addressing this serious regional and national health issue through the Gastrointestinal Oncology Research and Patient Care Initiative. Four families have already stepped up to build a solid foundation for this initiative through their generosity in honoring loved ones they’ve lost to cancer. The families of Rick Elkus, Jim Hayes, Bo Johnson, and Robert Reed are leading the way in supporting the vital research needed to fight this devastating disease.
“I am continually struck by the dedication and generosity of this group of people to make such a big commitment,” says Marty Heslin, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgery. “We at UAB are truly lucky to have these families on our side.”
GI cancer accounts for nearly 20 percent of all cancer deaths, and this year colorectal cancer is projected to be the third leading cause of such deaths. Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest cancer among this group—75 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate is less than 6 percent. GI cancers rarely cause symptoms until the disease is quite advanced; therefore, early detection is critical. Because of the relatively small amount of federal grant funding designated for GI cancer research, physicians lack viable early-detection tools and effective treatments. Through the GI Oncology
Initiative, UAB aims to develop novel treatments for GI cancers, accelerate the application of these discoveries into the clinical care of patients, and reduce the number of deaths caused by GI cancers through preventive medical technology and lifestyle modification.
To meet the growing needs of GI cancer patients throughout the Deep South, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has identified the expansion of its GI oncology research and patient-care programs as a priority. “Our goal is to establish enough research projects in this area to actually be competitive for a SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence designated by the National Cancer Institute) program in GI cancer,” says Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Winning such a prestigious and significant grant would allow us to considerably enhance specialized care by offering more cutting-edge treatment options to our patients. By expanding its team of scientific experts—and its research efforts—the Cancer Center will have the ability to increase the pace of discoveries that could lead to innovative new treatments and detection methods.”
Most of the components are already in place, including strong laboratory science and clinical research efforts, as well as excellent clinical programs such as the Integrated Multidisciplinary Cancer Care Program, which has GI cancer patients as one of its major components. This initiative is an effort to bring together the resources needed to coordinate and enhance these programs and create a nationally prominent research and patient care enterprise in GI oncology at UAB.
“This is an exciting time to be part of a great organization like the Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Heslin adds. “We have an incredibly dedicated core of clinicians in many specialties who are experts in the management of
complicated GI cancer diagnoses. We have pockets of NIH-funded and philanthropy- supported GI cancer research laboratories that are developing novel treatments throughout the medical center. Through collaboration and with the necessary funding, it is our dream to compete for program project and SPORE grants that would be the first in a long series of great achievements for our group of researchers. An initiative of this magnitude can transform a vision that might take an entire professional career to achieve to one that is visible on the current horizon.”
The James P. Hayes, Jr., Endowed Chair in Gastrointestinal Oncology
The first phase of the initiative will raise $1.5 million to establish an endowed chair in memory of James “Jim” Hayes, who passed away in 2008. Hayes was both a patient and longtime supporter of the Cancer Center. “He was also a wellknown, well-respected, and well-liked Alabama businessman,” Partridge says. Hayes joined the center’s Supporters Board in 1988 and was its president from 1994 to 1996. Throughout his years of service, he passionately encouraged others to become involved and contribute to advance scientific understanding of the disease. Because of that, the Hayes family made a lead gift for the endowed chair.
“The James P. Hayes, Jr., Endowed Chair in Gastrointestinal Oncology will be a lasting tribute to Jim and his tireless advocacy for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s efforts to discover a cure for this disease, which affected him personally and also has touched many of his fellow Alabamians,” Partridge says. Dr. Heslin, who was Hayes’s physician and friend, will be, upon approval by the university’s board of trustees, the first recipient of the endowed chair when it is complete.
While Hayes was fighting cancer, his enthusiasm for living and concern for others remained untouched by the disease. Instead, it intensified his desire to give back to the Cancer Center so that more cancer patients could benefit from the skilled, compassionate care offered there. Hayes’s wife, Ann, along with his sister Margaret Brunstad, have continued his legacy of giving through this initiative. Mrs. Hayes also has served as a member of the Cancer Center’s Supporters Board since 2002.
“Jim would have been very humbled to have an endowed chair named for him,” Mrs. Hayes says. “UAB and the Cancer Center meant so much to him, and he would have been extremely touched to know he made such an impact. This campaign will help UAB continue to provide the most outstanding care for GI cancer patients and conduct the most innovative research to find a cure. On behalf of our family, I want to say that we are honored to be a part of this great initiative.”
The Richard A. Elkus, M.D., Eminent Scholars Program in GI Oncology Research at UAB
The Elkus Eminent Scholars Program is the second phase in UAB’s GI Oncology Initiative. Richard A. Elkus, M.D., lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2005. In his honor, the Elkus family is leading an effort to establish the Richard A. Elkus, M.D., Eminent Scholars Program in GI Oncology Research at UAB. This initiative will raise $2 million to promote innovative research aimed at advancing scientific understanding of GI cancer and help UAB physicians develop new therapies and early detection methods.
Elkus’s wife, Helene, and their children, Mark Elkus, Tracy Elkus Lurey, and Cathy Elkus Zedd, are committed to helping UAB build a national program of excellence in GI cancer research. They have made a lead gift and continue to raise funds to implement pilot research studies and multidisciplinary research projects to bring together scientists from labs across campus that have never before worked together.
“Our family had to travel across the country to visit leading GI cancer institutes and physicians,” Mrs. Elkus says. “We want others faced with this difficult disease to have access to premier facilities, resources, and doctors closer to home. Moreover, we really wanted to continue the fight against cancer and truly help other families from suffering such a devastating loss like we did.”
Additionally, the Elkus family is establishing an endowment named for Dr. Elkus that will continue to provide funding for support of GI oncology research at UAB for generations to come. When fully funded, the Elkus Eminent Scholars Program will help to rapidly accelerate scientific discovery in GI cancer at UAB by awarding competitive research grants to deserving young investigators and their mentors, providing important funding for promising pilot projects, and encouraging established researchers from different disciplines and schools across campus to work in collaboration.
“We believe that the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, given the needed resources, is positioned to become the nation’s premier research institution for GI cancers,” Mrs. Elkus adds. “My children and I are investing personally in this effort and encourage others to as well.”
“UAB is committed to solving the problem of GI cancer in the Deep South,” Partridge says. “By partnering with people such as the Elkus family, who personally understand the importance of this effort, we will change the course of GI cancer for future generations.”
The Robert E. Reed Gastrointestinal Oncology Research Foundation
Robert Reed believed that no one person can get things done by working alone. Throughout his distinguished career as chairman and CEO of RealtySouth, he collaborated with outstanding people to help the Birmingham community. Two of his most cherished projects were serving on the teams that made The Kirklin Clinic at UAB and the Hope Lodge a reality.
Reed passed away in 2002 after a courageous, two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. His wife, Carolyn, and sons, Randy and Scott, have continued his legacy of pulling people together and working to make a positive difference by establishing the Robert E. Reed Gastrointestinal Oncology Research Foundation. An endowment, which continues to grow, was created to perpetuate the foundation’s giving toward this important research. The foundation’s “Finish the Fight” event, held each November, serves as its primary source of fund-raising.
Since 2004, the Reed Foundation has raised more than $1 million and given more than $500,000 to support UAB, Dr. Heslin, and the translational research programs in the UAB GI Oncology Translational Research Laboratory—dedicated to advancing scientific discovery and making treatment easier for patients with all types of gastrointestinal cancers.
“The Reed Foundation was established to honor Robert’s desire to continue the fight against cancer and to support the outstanding research and care provided by Dr. Heslin and the Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB,” Mrs. Reed says. “Our family is committed to providing ongoing support to cancer research and will continue investing in the future of GI cancer care for all Alabamians.”
The Bo Johnson Memorial Research Grant
The Bo Johnson Charitable Foundation was started in 2005 in memory of Bo Johnson, who lost his battle with esophageal cancer just three months after being diagnosed. After his death, his family and friends started an annual golf tournament to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.
The foundation’s golf tournament is paired with a pre-event party featuring a silent auction. These events have been enormously successful, raising more than $500,000 in just five years. Much of this money goes to the Bo Johnson Memorial Research Grant, which benefits esophageal cancer research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Bo’s friends have been amazing by continuing to celebrate his life through the golf tournament and pre-event party,” says Sam Johnson, Bo’s father and chair of the Bo Johnson Foundation. “Together, we have turned a tragic loss into a positive by creating and funding the Bo Johnson Charitable Foundation that supports gastrointestinal cancer research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Because of Bo’s zest for life, this is what he would have wanted.”