October 15, 2008
As one couple learned, sometimes life is all about being in the right place at the right time.
It was a crisp, chilly November day in 2006 when Moshe and Jacqueline Tal sat in Dr. Susan Mackinnon’s office for another post-cancer check-up. When they saw Mackinnon walk in, and without even looking at one another, they announced, “We’re in.”
Less than a year later, in April 2007, two dreams became a reality. With help from a $1 million donation from the Tals, Barnes-Jewish Hospital opened the Tal Nerve Research Center.
The Tal’s saga started when they left their home in Oklahoma City so Jacqueline could consult Mackinnon, a renowned surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Jacqueline Tal, a retired model, was a busy mother enjoying life with her four children, when she realized moving her right hand was causing intense pain and becoming more difficult to move by the day. Unsure and confused about the cause, the Tals visited several doctors in Oklahoma City.
“No one knew what the problem was,” Moshe says. “One doctor even said it was all in my wife’s head.” Frustrated and desperate for answers, the two were surfing the Internet when they came across Mackinnon, a pioneer in the nerve transplant field who specializes in neural surgeries and reparations. The esteemed doctor performed the world’s first successful nerve transplant on a 12-year-old boy in 1993.
After initial visits with Mackinnon in 2001, Jacqueline learned she had a rare nerve cancer – so rare that Jacqueline was only the fifth person in the world diagnosed with the disease. Her cancerous cells had formed a tumor in her right arm, causing lumps to form under the skin.
In April 2001, Jacqueline underwent corrective surgery. Mackinnon removed nerves taken from Jacqueline’s breast and transplanted them into her right hand.
After the surgery, Jacqueline underwent a challenging recovery. Healing both mentally and physically for three months, the couple lived in a nearby St. Louis hotel as Jacqueline underwent radiation therapy.
“Dr. Mackinnon’s emotional support was as important as getting rid of the cancer,” Moshe says. “She’s been more than a doctor, she’s been a true friend.”
Today, Jacqueline is cancer free and has regained 50 percent mobility in her right hand.
“I still help her brush her hair and put on her make-up sometimes, but she’s really enjoying life now,” Moshe says of his wife, who is now pain-free and as active as before. Mackinnon helped Jacqueline realize the dream of restoring her normal life, so the couple in turn made it possible for Mackinnon to conduct groundbreaking research.
In April 2007, the couple gave their first $100,000 and will continue to give that amount annually for the next 10 years. The money helped to create the center and now goes toward finding new researchers as well as paying for microscopes, and even a worldwide database with information about nerve cancer in which doctors and researchers from other countries can log in and compare side effects.
“We love Barnes-Jewish, the whole team,” Moshe says. “It’s the first peripheral nerve center in the world and we are honored to be a part of it.”
The Tals hope they’ve set an example for their children and that they, too, will continue the gift of giving. The couple hopes to raise an additional six or seven million dollars for the nerve center through fundraisers and events. Moshe, an avid car collector, is willing to sacrifice his favorite hobby for the cause. Owning titles to more than 17 classic cars, including a 2003 special-edition Corvette, Moshe says he will happily part ways with his favorite car to further the cause.
Although he says his cars were his pride and joy, the nerve center now fits that bill. “The nerve center is our baby now,” Moshe says. “It’s our dream, our life project. God didn’t give me money to go buy cars; we give and we get.”
From the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine, Fall 2008