Al Roker is a morning fixture for many St. Louisans. Monday through Friday, the “Today Show” mainstay forecasts weather, interviews celebrities and helps viewers find out what's going on in their “neck of the woods.”
He's also passionate about cancer awareness. He lost his father to lung cancer and his mother twice had breast and lung cancer before dying from emphysema complications.
That passion led him to the Ritz Carlton in Clayton April 26 to emcee the annual “illumination gala” benefiting the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. With Roker's help, the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation raised over $2.3 million for Siteman.
“The Siteman Cancer Center is a center that's really needed,” said Roker. “Here's a center that treats people primarily from an eight-state area, but still gets people from around the country.”
Roker found out about Siteman's national reach firsthand on his trip to the gala. “I'm leaving LaGuardia with my wife, and on the plane the pilot asks me why I'm going to St. Louis,” he said. “I say I'm hosting a cancer fundraiser in St. Louis and he says 'Siteman? I was treated there and I'm cancer free for four years.'"
That was among the stories Roker shared as emcee. He focused heavily on the Siteman Cancer Center's proton beam center – scheduled to open in 2009 – and Barnes-Jewish president Andy Ziskind, MD, announced it will be called the Kling Center for Proton Therapy to honor S. Lee Kling for his dedication to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and its foundation. In addition, Bill and Amy Koman endowed a chair to honor Washington University and Siteman oncologist Nancy Bartlett, MD.
While the gala focused on cancer, it's a health topic not usually tied to Roker. Most obvious is his 2002 gastric bypass. And while the procedure left him 100 pounds lighter, it's a surgery he doesn't take lightly.
“It's a dangerous operation,” he says. “One in 200 people die from complications, and unless you're vastly overweight it's not really the answer and it's just a means to an end, it's not the end.
“I have a constant battle of watching what I eat and exercising and I always will. The surgery is a tool, and while it was worth it for me, it's not for everybody.”
As part of the $2.3 million raised at the gala, Roker auctioned off two trips to New York to visit the “Today Show” to help him do a weather forecast on-air.
From the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine, Fall 2008