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S. Lee Kling: One Man's Vision for a Community of Giving

October 15, 2008

Editor’s Note: As GIVING was in production, S. Lee Kling died on July 25, 2008, at the age of 79. His vision lives on through his work for the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation–that light will never go out.

Almost losing an eye did not dim S. Lee Kling’s vision for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. It resulted in bringing one of the newest and most noninvasive cancer treatments–proton beam therapy–to the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

When tumors were discovered on his eye, there were few options. One unacceptable choice was losing it. “Lee told me he would never leave the house again,” said his wife, Rosie. As luck would have it–and Lee Kling was a self-professed “very lucky man”–his ophthalmologist had trained with colleagues who were pioneering the most advanced radiology therapy available, the proton beam.

J. William Harbour, MD, a Washington University ophthalmologist specializing in conditions of the retina and tumors of the eye, realized his patient needed surgery where he had completed a fellowship –the University of California-San Francisco.

“There are only a handful of places in the nation that specialize in treating this type of very hard-to-reach tumor,” said Harbour. “The biggest benefit to follow-up treatment with the proton beam is the reduced damage to tissues and organs surrounding these deeply hidden tumors, but proton beam systems are also extremely expensive and require massive amounts of energy.”

Kling himself possessed massive amounts of energy, a quality quickly discovered by Harbour. “Mr. Kling was a very kind and extremely motivated person,” said Harbour. “Not every patient can afford the time or travel to get this form of therapy, but he also had this amazing positive energy and can-do attitude that made him an ideal patient for this treatment.”

Kling traveled to San Francisco for the initial surgery, and then criss-crossed the nation to receive proton beam therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Energy brown-outs in California had limited use of the UCSF facility, and there were no proton beam systems in the Midwest.

He remembers being especially surprised at the number of children he saw during his treatments in Boston. “That’s when I realized how special this option really was,” said Kling. Local families like the Farrells couldn’t agree more. Anna Farrell,12, was one of the children who received proton beam therapy for a brain tumor at the same facility as Kling. She is fully recovered and cancer-free, and because of the proton beam, has had no damage to the brain that surrounded the tumor, and no delays in learning.

“This treatment is a miracle,” said Anna’s mother, Jennifer Farrell. “But the cost and stress of traveling so far is difficult on families—making this therapy available right here in St. Louis is wonderful—we applaud Barnes-Jewish.”

“Many brain and spinal tumors in children respond so much better with the proton beam therapy, because it causes far less damage to the surrounding tissues and organs that are still in their growth stages,” said Kling. “So, of course, I knew we had to have it at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis!”As everyone in Lee’s circle of friends and colleagues know, if Lee Kling said something needed to happen, there were no questions asked, except for perhaps “How soon?” and “How much?”

In addition to leading the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation Board, Kling had decades of experience making things happen. He built businesses in insurance and banking, served on countless corporate and charitable boards, and held leadership roles with the military, government and politics. A national figure in the Democratic Party, Kling served as Finance Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a member of its Executive Committee—while claiming many friends on all sides of the political aisle.

In addition to being honored at the 2008 illumination gala benefiting Siteman Cancer Center, Kling’s friends and colleagues came together to honor him in yet another way by creating the S. Lee Kling Chair for Radiation Oncology.

“It will be a special honor to remember our friend and leader, Lee, as we install the inaugural S. Lee Kling Chair in Radiation Oncology,” said Andy Ziskind, MD, president of Barnes-Jewish. “Dr. Jeffrey Bradley will focus on research into applications of proton beam therapy at our new center which will change cancer care as we know it in our region. We are delighted to name it the the Kling Center for Proton Beam Therapy to honor the leadership, work and vision of Lee Kling.”

From the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine, Fall 2008

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