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Perpetual Motivation: Endowed Chairs Give Top Researchers Freedom to Pursue Passions; Perform Groundbreaking Work

  • June 15, 2009
  • Number of views: 636

“Endowed chair.”

You’ve probably heard the term, but do you know exactly what it means?
To Barnes-Jewish Hospital, it means an investment in hope and innovation that will help us remain one of America’s best hospitals.

Here’s how it works: To establish an endowed chair, a person gives at least $1.5 million to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. The principal remains unspent and is invested so that the annual income can support the activities of the chair holder.

Here’s what it does: The funding enables a groundbreaking physician to advance ideas and make discoveries that change the face of medicine, both now and in the future.
“An endowed chair exists in perpetuity,” says Pamela Morris, development director at the Foundation. “Long after the donor is gone, the chair holder and the hospital are still benefiting from the gift.”

Donors create endowed chairs for a multitude of reasons –perhaps they want to honor a particular physician, or maybe they want to contribute funds to a specific cause.

Whatever the case, when a physician is selected to hold an endowed chair, a world of possibilities is revealed.

“An endowed chair gives a faculty member research support,” says Julia Ruvelson, vice president of the Foundation. “It gives them more time to do research and to follow hunches. They don’t have to worry about securing seed money. Instead, they can use the time to develop ideas that leverage large-scale funding.”

In other words, the funds are reserved specifically for chair holders to use as needed for their research – and the funds are more readily accessible.  Precious time spent writing and waiting for grants to fund initial research can actually be spent in the lab, where the chair holder and his or her team collect the data that helps them secure six- and seven-figure government and private grants that take their research to the next level.

The Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation manages 29 endowed chair, dean and professorship funds in total for Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College. Each hospital chair holder is also one of Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s physician partners at Washington University School of Medicine.

“The endowed chair program gives us the ability to support faculty who are outstanding researchers and clinicians,” Ruvelson says. “This is one of the many ways we build our Foundation – endowed chairs allow us to help develop better treatments and new technology, and bring us closer to cures.”

“We are deeply grateful for our generous friends who endow these chairs through the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation,” says Andy Ziskind, MD, president of Barnes-Jewish Hospital.  “Their far-reaching gifts enrich the collaboration with our Washington University partners that will lead to better care and outcomes in St. Louis and beyond.”

Marin Kollef, MD

Virginia E. and Sam J. Golman Endowed Chair in Respiratory Intensive Care Medicine

The sickest patients in the hospital – some of them dying – are found in the intensive care unit. It can be a depressing, frightening, heart-wrenching  place.

And it’s exactly where Marin Kollef wants to be.

Dr. Kollef is director of medical intensive care and respiratory care services at Barnes-Jewish. It’s the type of position he knew even as a student that he wanted to have someday.

“It’s something I was drawn to during medical school when I did a rotation in the ICU,” he says. “I knew I wanted to take care of the sickest patients. They are vulnerable, and they need someone to look out for them and stand up for them.”

He has, in fact, spent his entire career caring for patients desperately in need of help.  After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1979, Dr. Kollef served in the Army until 1992. He had relatives in Bulgaria and Greece (his parents both emigrated to the United States) who served in the military in their countries, and serving his own nation was important to him. During Desert Storm he was a medical treatment  platoon leader in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,  and Iraq.

“It made me realize that suffering can occur on a very large scale. Most people have never experienced that,” he says. “It made me appreciate that there is a lot you can do with very few resources. Probably the most important lesson I learned was to not accept defeat. Even when you’re in the middle of the desert and you only have what you’re carrying on your back, there is in fact a lot you can do to make a difference.”

Although today he’s in a hospital instead of on the battlefront, his philosophy is the same. His goal is to make a difference by improving the outcomes of critically ill patients.  That’s why his research focuses on identifying and treating infections in patients as quickly as possible – and preventing those infections in the first place.

Dr. Kollef was installed as the Golman Chair in February, and he hopes it will allow him to expand his research efforts.

“Endowed chairs give chair holders the freedom and the time to really explore questions that might not get looked at in any other way,” he says. “It’s very difficult to get funding for research through the government right now. That’s why we need these alternative mechanisms to try to recognize important areas of research.”

Initial funding for the Golman Chair was provided by Virginia and Sam Golman through a bequest, in gratitude for the care that Mrs. Golman received in the Barnes-Jewish respiratory critical care unit.  Gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Fromm and Brown Shoe Co. completed the endowment.


Patrick and Joy Williamson Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery

Bryan Meyers is a gardener.

He grows vegetables and flowers, and his dream is to have a small farm someday.

But he’s also a surgeon – specifically, Washington University School of Medicine chief of the section of thoracic surgery at Barnes-Jewish. It’s a demanding job. As a result, his outdoor pursuits sometimes suffer a bit.

“I don’t hire anyone to mow my yard or anything, and there was a time last year when my lawn in the back got so long,” Dr. Meyers says. “I said I was adopting the prairie look, but that strategy didn’t work. Simultaneously my wife complained and my next-door neighbor wondered what was going on.”

When he’s not gardening or experimenting with the prairie look, he’s probably working. The majority of his work involves surgery for lung and esophageal cancer at the Siteman Cancer Center,  and he also performs lung transplants – 50 to 60 are performed at the hospital’s transplant center each year.

Dr. Meyers loves his work.

“I think the beautiful thing about being a physician and surgeon is that unlike a lot of other fields, I do well by allowing other people to do well. It’s different from jobs where people do well at somebody else’s expense. It’s very easy for me to come to work and find positive moments throughout the day.” His research involves finding the most effective, efficient treatments for patients with thoracic diseases.

“I’m very much aware that the number of things we can do for patients is almost infinite,” Dr. Meyers says. “The problem is that the price tag is infinite as well.

Through the Williamson Chair, he can worry a little less about that price tag.  As chair holder, he will be able to spend more time on his research without  feeling so much pressure to find funding.

He’s grateful to the Williamsons for making that possible. He even envisions himself following in their footsteps – but in a different field entirely.

Dr. Meyers and his wife have a house in Maine, and he hopes to start a small farm there someday – and maybe help others do the same.

“It’s a real challenge for young farmers to get into farming – they don’t have the capital to do it,” he says. “I could envision a situation where I set up in some degree of perpetuity an incubator farm where someone could get started and then branch out. It would be similar to what the Williamsons have done for me – continuing to support the work they think is valuable.”

Long standing supporters of thoracic surgery and lung transplant programs at Barnes-Jewish, Patrick and Joy Williamson endowed their chair in 2008 because they wanted  to make a gift that would support the leadership and research essential to the hospital’s mission and position as a world leader.


S. Lee Kling Endowed Chair in Radiation Oncology

Jeffrey Bradley’s family has always been his top priority.  When he was in medical school at the University of Arkansas, his 49-year-old father was diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer. On weekends, Dr. Bradley made the four-hour drive home to be with his dad.

“The whole thing happened fast,” Dr. Bradley says. “He lived for only six months.”

When Dr. Bradley told his pharmacology professor he would miss the final term exam because he would be attending his dad’s funeral, the professor informed him he had two days to make up the exam or he would fail the course.

So he drove home for the funeral, turned around, came back and passed his exam.

Today Dr. Bradley is a Washington University radiation oncologist at the Siteman Cancer Center – and not by chance. “My father’s death spurred me to go into this field,” he says. “I know what it is like to lose someone to cancer.”

Dr. Bradley, who specializes in lung cancer, recently was named the first director of the Kling Center for Proton Therapy at Siteman Cancer Center. When the Kling Center opens, it will join only a handful of proton facilities in the United States. The goal of proton therapy is to deliver a more precise dose of radiation – increasing the dose to the tumor and decreasing the amount that hits surrounding tissue, which minimizes side effects.

Dr. Bradley had strong ties to the late S. Lee Kling, the proton center’s namesake and former chairman of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. Kling – whose eye was saved by proton therapy – inspired the center that Dr. Bradley now leads and the endowed chair in radiation oncology that Dr. Bradley now holds.

The chair itself was made possible by Kling’s family, friends and colleagues who supported the illuminatonO8 gala and subsequent fundraising efforts.

“With this chair I want to develop tools for clinical trials in proton therapy,” Dr. Bradley says. “Proton therapy is so new that there aren’t yet too many clinical trials to base treatment on – what dose to use, what the side effects are – because not many patients have gone through it. This chair is a perpetual source of funds that will provide a baseline to do this research without being completely dependent on industry or the government to replenish my funds.”

It’s a big  job, and it takes up a lot of time. But no matter what, Dr. Bradley’s top priority is still his family. When he’s not working, he’s spending time with his wife and two children – coaching his son’s basketball team and shuttling the kids between activities.

And he’s always thinking about the future – and what he can accomplish through the Kling Chair and the proton center: “What excites me is that we are establishing what could be the gold standard for cancer therapy.”


Anheuser-Busch Chair in Medical Oncology

When Matthew Ellis was nine years old, his religious studies teacher asked all the students in the class what they would like to be when they grew up.

When it was his turn, Matthew said he would like to be a doctor. “You know, Matthew,” the teacher said, “I do believe you will be.”

If only she could see Matthew – who did indeed become Dr. Ellis – now. As head of the breast cancer program at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, he has made tremendous strides in breast cancer research.  All because he asked a question many years ago, during his residency program.

“I began to notice the large numbers of women dying of metastatic breast cancer,” he says. “I started asking why, but I never got a good answer. There was no real understanding of the biology of the disease, so I decided the answer must be in understanding what makes breast cancer breast cancer.”  So he set about finding out.

He spent four years studying molecular biology and gene regulation at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London. After holding various positions in the United States, he came to Washington University and Barnes-Jewish six years ago.  Since his arrival, he has performed groundbreaking research. For example, with a few colleagues, Dr. Ellis found that a set of just 50 genes can be used to identify the four known types of breast cancer. That means the different types of cancer can be treated appropriately.

“It is imperative that we make our treatment choices more efficient and humane,” he says. “As important as curing the disease is getting the treatment right so women don’t undergo things they don’t need.”

He is passionate about reducing women’s suffering by using the most appropriate treatment approaches, the subject of much of his research. And he says the Anheuser-Busch Chair, established by the Anheuser-Busch Foundation in 2001 to support advances that will improve life in St. Louis and beyond, makes some of his most critical research possible.

“The chair allows me time to think,” Dr. Ellis says. “It provides me with funds for the lab so I can do more creative  experiments. I can make things happen because of these funds.”

Spend any time with Dr. Ellis, and you’ll see how passionate he is about his breast cancer patients. You’ll also see that he is just as passionate about his wife and two children – and about Brazil. His wife is Brazilian, and they have a home in Rio de Janeiro, where they go often.  “I’ll live in Brazil when I retire,” he says. “I love it, and my wife and kids love it.”

In the meantime, he’ll focus on breaking more ground in the world of breast cancer research and care.


Solon and Bettie Gershman Chair in Colon and Rectal Surgery

Ira Kodner moved to St. Louis when he was four years old. His 50-year high school reunion is coming up this year, and he’s still here.

He grew up in University City and then went to undergraduate and medical school at Washington University. After a short stint overseas as an Army surgeon, he came back. He went into private practice and later joined Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Along the way, Dr. Kodner met many people he says helped him tremendously. He has always considered it his duty to give back – to those who have helped him and to the community he loves.

So he has. In many, many ways.

After completing a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, he started the first colon and rectal surgery program in St. Louis. He spent most of his career performing complicated rectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease operations. He became director of the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Floor Disorders at Barnes-Jewish West County, which most often treats women with malfunction and incontinence related to childbirth.

His work is challenging, but it’s worth it.

“I’m old enough now that I get letters or e-mails that say: ‘You don’t remember me, but you took care of me for cancer 30 years ago. I thought you’d like to know my kids have graduated,’” he says.

When he’s not working, he’s just as busy – growing orchids, his pastime of 45 years, shooting photos, cooking soul food (his mom was from Paducah, Ky.).

And a few years ago, Dr. Kodner also did something unprecedented: After completing an ethics fellowship at the University of Chicago, he started the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Washington University.

“The goal of the center is to take on the most complicated issues in society,” he says. “The university can provide a neutral forum. This involves faculty and students from all areas of the university. If I had not had the endowed chair, I could not have done this.”

He says the Gershman Chair has, in fact, given him the freedom to do many things. On the research front, for example, he collaborated with radiation oncologists to pioneer the use of endocavitary radiation, which can help patients avoid major surgical resection. This is just the type of work that Solon and Bettie envisioned when they established the chair, which has since been enhanced by gifts from friends, colleagues and patients of Dr. Kodner.

Dr. Kodner’s ties to the Gershmans go back many years – his father, a Russian immigrant, once worked for Mr. Gershman. Dr. Kodner never imagined he would one day be the holder of the Gershman Chair.

“What an incredible thing,” he says. “It made my career possible.”


Manny and Rosalyn Rosenthal and Dr. John L. Trotter MS Center Chair in Neuroimmunology

During Anne Cross’ neurology residency, two of her friends were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She saw firsthand how devastating the disease was. The worst part: there was no treatment.

She’s been working to improve life for MS patients ever since.

In 1991, Dr. Cross accepted a position working under Dr. John Trotter at Barnes-Jewish and Washington University.

“When I first got here, there were no treatments for MS and John had a huge number of patients in the hospital all the time,” Dr. Cross says. “Now we can go a month with no MS patients in the hospital – because we can treat some people as outpatients and patients are having fewer attacks.”

There have been many breakthroughs in multiple sclerosis research since Dr. Cross entered the field, and her contributions have been vital. Notably, Dr. Cross, who today is section head of neuroimmunology and director of the John L. Trotter MS Center, led research that showed patients who were failing with standard treatment improved when B lymphocyte cell depletion was added to their treatment.

“It’s been really rewarding to watch treatments improving,” she says. “Today I have many patients who only need to see me once a year. That hardly happened back in the old days.”

In those days, she worked closely with Dr. Trotter. In fact, she came to St. Louis partly because she knew he needed help with his overwhelming volume of patients and his research. He quickly became her mentor and her close friend.

In 2001, he died unexpectedly. Dr. Cross was devastated.  But despite her terrible grief, she took over as section head, inheriting the overwhelming work load that Dr. Trotter had initially needed her help with.

To this day, she carries on the MS work they started together. As the Manny and Rosalyn Rosenthal and Dr. John L. Trotter MS Center Chair in Neuroimmunology, she does it in his honor.

“It meant so much to me to be named the Rosenthal and John L. Trotter Chair,” Dr. Cross says. “Even if it carried no stipend, I would have wanted to have it.”

Originally inspired by an anonymous family who wanted to honor Dr. Trotter, the endowed chair became a reality through a major gift by Rosalyn Rosenthal and other gifts by her family members.  Mrs. Rosenthal has a granddaughter who lives with MS.

Now the funding provided by the chair allows Dr. Cross to pursue MS research opportunities she otherwise couldn’t. Her work is one of her greatest passions, and she says she is fortunate to be able to share it with her husband, Dr. DeWitte Cross, an interventional neuroradiologist at the hospital. They met over a cadaver in medical school and fell in love almost immediately.

Dr. Cross has grown close to many of her patients over the years as well, and they are her inspiration.

“I have many patients I consider friends,” she says. “They’ve been with me for 10-plus years. We’re growing old together.”

These are just a handful of the stories the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation has to tell. All endowed chair holders are equally amazing people individually – all changing the world of health care.  And the endowed chair program continues to grow, which means new researchers continue to join this prestigious group.

If you are interested in establishing an endowed chair through the Foundation or would simply like to learn more about the program, call the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation at (314) 286-0600 or email

From Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine, 2009, Issue 1

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