Partners in care
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Drew Wall wants other kids to have the chances he’s had. Since 2008, he’s been getting cancer treatment at the University of Iowa, where he and his family have met doctors, nurses, and other staff who mix world-class expertise with a down-to-earth attitude.
“The people at Iowa are like your neighbors,” says the 15-year-old Cedar Rapids native. “They couldn’t be nicer, but they’re also really magnificent at what they do.”
Wall’s experience has made him a vocal advocate for UI Health Care programs like the Children’s Hospital and the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Part of his message: Anyone and everyone can help find cures and comfort families.
Wall is one of many UI patients who are determined to give something back, whether that means sharing their stories, volunteering, or donating funds to support research and clinical care.
When a pain in Wall’s lower-right leg wouldn’t go away, his parents brought him to the UI Children’s Hospital. Doctors discovered bone cancer and advised the Wall family that invasive surgery would render Drew’s leg virtually useless. Amputating the leg at the knee might help him maintain an active life.
Drew Wall, who will be a sophomore next year, plays golf for the Kennedy High School golf team.
Today, Wall is fully accustomed to his prosthetic leg, playing golf for Kennedy High School. He continues to fight his disease—he’s had a series of surgeries to remove cancerous cells from his lungs, and has participated in a trial of a new cancer drug.
“One great thing about Iowa is the collaboration between all of Drew’s doctors,” says Robin Wall, Drew’s mother. “They all work together, whether they’re in the Children’s Hospital, the Holden Cancer Center, or services that usually treat adults. They’ve been able to offer us new ideas and options.”
In turn, Drew Wall serves on an advisory council planning a new UI Children’s Hospital facility. He’s also a frequent speaker at fund-raising events.
“I tell people to just donate,” he says, “whether it’s to the Children’s Hospital, Dance Marathon, Children’s Miracle Network, the American Cancer Society, or any other group fighting this disease.”
A measured approach
Programs that foster donations from grateful patients are common at hospitals large and small, among them the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Duke.
“These initiatives are best practice in the fund-raising field,” says Jackie Lewis, vice president for health sciences development at the UI Foundation.
UI Foundation and UI Health Care fund-raising programs respect and protect patients’ privacy, closely following regulations established by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
In many cases, patients themselves initiate gifts, but the university and the foundation also point out opportunities to give. Letters about the Caring Fund, which builds general-purpose support for the university’s hospitals and clinics, are sent to a broad spectrum of UI patients without regard to area of care or treatment and require no access to private health records.
UI alumna and UI Foundation board member Sue Beckwith recalls checking into a hotel before receiving medical treatment at another highly regarded institution. Waiting in her room was a letter asking her to consider a donation.
“Iowa is much more modest,” she says. “I think the university is actually somewhat late in looking at these programs because we’ve wanted to take extra care to be sensitive and to do them right.”
Gifts make a difference
“There’s a big misconception that hospitals don’t need private support because they bill for services,” says Cassandra Foens, a UI alumna and radiation oncologist at Waterloo’s Covenant Medical Center. “In fact, billings aren’t sufficient to pay for the technology and infrastructure that keep our services strong.”
Foens serves on boards for her hospital’s foundation and for the UI Foundation, which raises private funds for the spectrum of UI programs. She notes that in cancer treatment, for example, a promising new device emerges every couple of years, often costing millions.
Meanwhile Medicare and private insurers continue to reduce payments for clinical services, leaving hospitals to make up the difference. Raising additional funds is especially important for an academic medical center like the UI.
“Part of a university’s role is to evaluate new technology to see if hospitals in communities like Waterloo should invest,” Foens says. “The University of Iowa also provides health care for much of Iowa’s indigent population, and teaches the next generation of health professionals. All those missions cost much more than what reimbursements will cover.”
Experts just down the road
Like Drew Wall, Pat McGrath of Cedar Rapids is receiving cancer care at the UI. He’d been treated for melanoma—a particularly virulent cancer of the skin and other tissues—at clinics across the country before turning to the university’s Holden Cancer Center.
“I’m overwhelmed at how positive my experience at Holden has been,” McGrath says. “With cancer, everything’s an unknown. Will it come back? If so, what will we do about it? Having a world-class health care team just down the road provides a lot of reassurance.”
McGrath cites physicians like Mohammed Milhem, who’s been closely monitoring McGrath’s disease (and helping to treat Drew Wall, too). Private support, McGrath says, helps the university recruit and keep such top talent.
“It’s no secret that doing research takes money, and that discovering the next breakthrough is a passion for some of the best doctors,” he says. “We need to help keep that passion going.”
Doctors don’t always know how to respond when patients wonder how they might help a particular program.
“They really do hear people say, ‘You saved my life—what can I do for you?’” says Jackie Lewis, vice president for health sciences development at the UI Foundation. “Some patients want to help, and we want to honor their wishes in a way that’s ethical and professional.”
UI Foundation staff train physicians and other health professionals on how to advise would-be donors. They also help the university inform patients about opportunities to give—another way to connect with people who are driven to make a difference (see sidebar).
Sue Beckwith, a UI alumna, Des Moines surgeon, and UI Foundation board member points out that health-related charities draw strong support from people motivated by personal experience.
“For me, giving is an opportunity,” she says. “Think of all the organizations helping to find cures—they’re driven by people whose lives have been touched by disease. Giving back helps them feel good and helps the cause.”
No surprise, then, that patients are some of the university’s best partners in care.
“The wonderful stories that happen here aren’t that rare,” Lewis says. “Fund-raising is all about building relationships and learning what’s important to people.”