Read past issues from Connections magazine about how philanthropy has impacted care for the patients

Spring/Summer 2020

Rhythm Regulators

Philanthropic support from our donors is helping create a pioneering research program that leads the way in developing transformative innovations in care. Donors are impacting the lives of patients like Renato Mediola of Lake Villa. Mendiola benefited from the new AFib Center which streamlines care for emergency patients.

When the 75-year-old Mendiola experienced intense heart palpitations and a rapid, irregular heartbeat last October, he knew he needed to stop everything and seek immediate emergency care.

“It seemed like I could hear my heart thumping,” recalled Mendiola, who feared he might be having a heart attack. “The Emergency Department (ED) doctors quickly diagnosed atrial fibrillation (AFib) and referred me to NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute’s AFib Center for follow-up.”

Access in a Heartbeat

The AFib Center is one of the most comprehensive in Chicagoland, offering the full range of treatments to correct arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which increases risk for stroke or heart failure.

“Our new Center is unique because it includes a protocol for the ED team to ensure patients get the heart care they need as quickly as possible,” explained the Center’s Director and Electrophysiologist Mark Metzl, MD. AFib patients who come in through the ED are discharged home rather than admitted to the hospital. They are then seen at the Center within 72 hours.

“In Renato’s case, we needed to perform an ablation procedure to correct his irregular rhythm,” noted Dr. Metzl, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

My symptoms are all gone, and I’m back to my job with no restrictions on my activity. I just can’t say enough about the caring doctors and nurses at NorthShore and the AFib Center.

Renato Mendiola
AFib Center Patient

“Patients also can be evaluated for numerous cofactors that contribute to their AFib all in one location,” added Dr. Metzl, noting that the Center collaborates with other medical specialties, including integrative medicine, pulmonology, neurology and cardiothoracic surgery to help evaluate and treat patients. “The Center is part of a multisite research study to determine the most appropriate amount of ablation needed to correct AFib to achieve even higher success rates.”

“I’m so grateful for my care,” said Mendiola. “My symptoms are all gone, and I’m back to my job with no restrictions on my activity. I just can’t say enough about the caring doctors and nurses at NorthShore and the AFib Center.”

For more information on supporting cardiovascular initiatives and the Cardiovascular Institute at NorthShore, please contact Walt Cody at 224.364.7204. 


The Biggest Challenge of His Life

Generous support is helping to transform the way we treat and care for cancer patients. Philanthropic gifts enable us to pursue proven novel therapies such as immunotherapy. Tim Johnson is one cancer survivor who benefited from this type of treatment.

An avid competitor, Johnson faced an unexpected jolt in the form of cancer a few years ago that set him up for the ultimate test of strength and courage.

Hitting a Wall

Johnson’s journey began in the spring of 2016. The Deerfield resident had undergone surgery to remove what he thought was a benign parotid tumor on a salivary gland. But the issue was far more serious, as the tumor was in his parotid gland and it was malignant. Johnson knew he had to act quickly.

“I was never the one who got hurt or sick. I was working out all the time, and I was super healthy,” said Johnson. “Cancer put the brakes on all that. Tomorrow’s never promised, and I’m not Superman.”

Kellogg Cancer Center Hematologist David Grinblatt, MD diagnosed an aggressive form of large B-cell lymphoma. The silver lining was that it fortunately was caught at a very early and treatable stage. “We expect a 90% cure rate with the right treatment,” explained Dr. Grinblatt, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “This was one of the first diseases where adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy showed a significant benefit.”

Cancer-fighting Confidence

The treatment plan called for six rounds of chemotherapy with immunotherapy. Johnson attacked it with his usual positive attitude and competitive athlete’s mindset. The chemo derailed his race season, but Johnson doubled down on a healthy diet, rest and meditation, focusing on regaining his health and strength.

This was one of the first diseases where adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy showed a significant benefit.

David Grinblatt, MD
Kellogg Cancer Center Hematologist

Pedaling On

A few months after his final chemo treatment in November 2016, Johnson triumphantly returned to training. Now age 53, Johnson is cancer-free and feeling as strong as ever, hoping to use his positive experience as an inspiration for others.

“Tim’s prognosis is excellent,” added Dr. Grinblatt. “We’re optimistic this is gone for good.”

With a new race season ahead of him, Johnson is full of gratitude and goals that include setting a new personal record in a Half Ironman and coaching other triathletes to be their best. “There are so many positive takeaways from this experience, including accepting temporary setbacks and limitations. Thankfully, I’m moving forward with those lessons.”

To learn how you can support the advancement of NorthShore's immunotherapy program, contact Kevin Gray at 224.364.7230.


Pharmacogenomics: Gene-Powered Prescriptions

Critical donor support is helping NorthShore in the emerging age of genomic medicine. This has had a tremendous impact on the treatment of disease and predicting an individual’s response to treatment.

The Pharmacogenomics Clinic at NorthShore’s Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine offers genetic testing and interpretation to help deliver the right drug at the right dose the first time.

Pharmacogenomics and Total Joint Replacement

Working together, Mark Dunnenberger, PharmD, NorthShore’s Director of Pharmacogenomics, and Orthopaedic Surgeon Alexander Tauchen, MD, launched a study on the use of pharmacogenomics to improve pain management following total knee replacement.

This groundbreaking pilot, titled The impact of patient pharmacogenomics profile on narcotic consumption and outcomes following total knee arthroplasty, is designed to help physicians minimize opioid consumption by patients who have undergone joint replacement surgery.

The objective is to learn more about pain management as the medical community continues to combat the ongoing, tragic opioid epidemic.

The research team is tracking patients’ pain medication use and pain levels for 30 days following discharge from the hospital after surgery and comparing that information to the genes associated with metabolizing pain medications and self-reported patient psychosocial traits. Combining genetic data with other clinical information is a major point of innovation for this project.

DNA as a Tool to Choose Medication

Psychiatrist Laura Parise, MD, uses pharmacogenomics to treat depression and mental health issues. “Using DNA as a tool to choose medication helps reduce side effects, as we’re able to determine if someone is highly sensitive to a specific medication—especially if they’re new to treatment.” Said Dr. Parise. “We also can better treat patients with mood and anxiety disorders, depression, and addiction by using their pharmacogenomics profile to identify medications that are more suitable for their needs based on how their body uniquely responds to the drug.”

“I treated a patient who had been taking a certain medication for years and whose depression was in partial remission,” recounted Dr. Parise. “But because they weren’t feeling 100%, they began drinking alcohol excessively and this went on for years. When the patient entered our program, we discovered that their body didn’t tolerate a certain class of antidepressants. Based on pharmacogenomics, we switched to another drug and subsequently both their depression and substance use disorder achieved remission.”

Dr. Dunnenberger concludes, “Surveys of our patients with a pharmacogenomic screening show they’re more likely to take their prescribed medication. So, if we can help increase their adherence, the more likely we’re able to improve their health.”

To learn how you can support the advancement of NorthShore's Pharmacogenomics program, contact Molly Neuleib at 224.364.7218.

Winter 2020

Philanthropy Impacts Mother-Daughter Team Through DNA-10K Genetic Testing

A pioneering program supported by generous donors to the Transformation Through Innovation Fund impacted a mother and daughter’s future health.

The Transformation Through Innovation Fund was created in 2018 to honor Mark R. Neaman, retiring Chairman of the Board and longtime NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) President and Chief Executive Officer.

The Fund was established to provide vital seed funding for innovative projects that help transform patient care and improve health outcomes.

It was announced in 2019 that the first project funded would be a groundbreaking partnership with the industry-leading genomics technology company Color. This pilot program, dubbed DNA-10K, set the goal of incorporating advanced genomics into routine primary care for 10,000 patients, a goal that was reached in January of 2020.

No History

With no known family history of breast or ovarian cancer, Lake County schoolteacher Sandra McPherson had little reason to think she carried any hidden genetic risk for developing either form of the disease. Last year, during a regular checkup with her NorthShore OB/GYN Edward Lee, MD, she had the opportunity to participate in DNA-10K. “As physicians, we often advise our patients based on their own health history,” explained Dr. Lee, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “That’s why genetic testing can be so helpful. When Sandra asked me about it, I was happy to encourage it. The more information we have, the better.”


This knowledge is powerful. I try to live in the moment, but I need to do what I can to protect my future and my family’s future.

Sandra McPherson
DNA-10K Patient

Genetic Exploration

“When I got the results and saw that I had the BRCA2 mutation, I really just wanted to ignore it,” said McPherson. But her daughter Ali Oliveros, a 24-year-old biologist, insisted her mom take action since BRCA2 carries an elevated risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Oliveros accompanied her mom on initial appointments, with a genetic counselor and NorthShore Medical Oncologist Allison DePersia, MD, who specializes in caring for high-risk patients.

Critical Guidance

Dr. DePersia laid out McPherson’s options—from increased screening and surveillance to preemptive surgery—to reduce her risk of developing cancer. “At first, it was very overwhelming,” recalled the mother of three from Grayslake. “But Dr. DePersia was so nice, supportive and calm. She explained everything thoroughly. I trusted her.” McPherson underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery last fall and plans to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed later this year. “By doing the surgeries, I’m significantly lowering my risk of getting cancer. I’m a proactive person. If there’s a problem, I find the solution.”

Family First

McPherson’s daughter did not hesitate to say yes when Dr. DePersia suggested that she, too, consider genetic testing. While Oliveros knew her odds, she admitted it was still a bit of a shock to learn that she also has the BRCA2 mutation. “I was hoping for different results, but I’m glad to know and can do something about it,” she said. Dr. DePersia recommended that Oliveros follow a new screening regimen for annual MRIs and breast exams every six months due to her higher risk. Oliveros also is considering a bilateral mastectomy within the next five years. This knowledge is powerful,” McPherson added. “I try to live in the moment, but I need to do what I can to protect my future and my family’s future.”

Next Steps for the Transformation Through Innovation Fund

The Fund is a multi-phased project with a goal of achieving in $50 million philanthropic support and NorthShore matching funds by the end of 2021. It was recently announced that 2020 funding will support the Kellogg Genomic Cancer Initiative. This 12-month pilot project includes 500 advanced cancer patients at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center. The pilot looks to build a sustainable model for delivering precision genomic care to cancer patients.

For more information on supporting the Transformation through Innovation Fund and other philanthropic initiatives at NorthShore, please visit Ways to Give or contact Janet Myers at 224.364.7212. 


Galloping Beyond Cancer: Pioneering Treatment Turns the Tables on Melanoma

Philanthropy supports pioneering immunotherapy treatments at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center that change the lives of patients like Aislinn Bujewski.

Bujewski assumed the small lump on her thigh was a harmless cyst and barely gave it a second thought. But when she had it removed four years ago, this healthy, active 46-year-old horse trainer, runner and mother of three was left in total shock. The pathology results revealed that it was actually metastatic melanoma. “It was one of those surreal moments when it felt like time stopped,” said Bujewski of Lake Zurich.

Five years ago, before we had this immunotherapy, Aislinn would have likely only survived a matter of months.

Bruce Brockstein, MD
Oncologist and Kellogg-Scanlon Chair of Oncology at NorthShore

Advanced Treatment Option

With time being of the essence, a good friend connected her to NorthShore Oncologist and Kellogg-Scanlon Chair of Oncology Bruce Brockstein, MD, who has extensive expertise treating complex melanoma. The threat became even more concerning when a PET scan revealed the cancer had already spread to Bujewski’s liver and lymph nodes.

Dr. Brockstein quickly put Bujewski on an advanced immunotherapy treatment— nivolumab—with infusions every other week for 18 months. “The timing of this was kind of a miracle,” noted Dr. Brockstein. “Five years ago, before we had this immunotherapy, Aislinn would have likely only survived a matter of months.”

“As scared as I was after the initial diagnosis, within five minutes of meeting Dr. Brockstein I thought, ‘This is going to be OK,’” said Bujewski. “He was going to be in charge of it, and I felt very calm. Also, the entire team at Kellogg Cancer Center was great."

Surgical Intervention

After immunotherapy treatment, signs of cancer disappeared from Bujewski’s lymph nodes but the large tumor on her liver remained unchanged in size. Following a multidisciplinary consultation, the care team determined Bujewski should have the cancer surgically removed by Mark Talamonti, MD, Stanton and Margaret Rogers Palmer Chair of Surgery.

In the procedure, Dr. Talamonti removed the entire right lobe of her liver in an advanced, minimally-invasive surgery. Both physicians hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Bujewski is now cancer-free and her prognosis is very good, according to Dr. Brockstein.

“This kind of treatment obviously changes your life, but it taught me a lot. It made me realize you’re as strong as you need to be,” she added. “If I hadn’t come to NorthShore for treatment, I’m not sure I’d still be here and able to watch my kids grow up."

To learn how you can support the advancement of NorthShore's immunotherapy program, contact Kevin Gray at 224.364.7230.


Passport to a Healthier Heart

Your giving helps NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute offer our patients the most advanced treatment options and surgical interventions available. Luziana Lanna traveled from Belo Horizonte, Brazil to receive surgery to repair a dangerous heart condition that threatened her life.

Lanna found her retirement to be nearly as busy as her long career teaching English in her native Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Her days continued to be full and active, particularly in spending treasured time with her four sons and their families—especially her grandchildren.

Lethal Blockage

Lanna suffered from a degenerative heart condition known as mitral annular calcification—a deposit of calcium creating a severe blockage in her mitral valve, which began leaking and causing congestion from blood backing up in the lungs.

“Think of it like a rusty hinge on a door frame,” explained Hyde Russell, MD, NorthShore’s Owen L. Coon Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery. “The hinge becomes so thick and rigid that the door can no longer close.”

The rare condition requires extremely complex open-heart surgery to repair the valve. The extensive calcification makes surgical treatment both complex and risky, causing many surgeons to shy away from taking on such cases.

When Lanna and her Brazilian cardiologist Archimedes Santos, MD, could find no one in Brazil trained to perform the critical procedure, Dr. Santos began intensive online research. He found an article about the condition and its successful treatment by Dr. Russell in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

I feel so blessed! Not only for the success of my surgery, but also for the chance to tell the world how the expertise of Dr. Russell and NorthShore helps people live longer and better.

Luziana Lanna
NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute Patient

Of the handful of heart surgeons in the United States who now perform this procedure, many have come to the Cardiovascular Institute for training. Fully confident in the NorthShore team, Lanna, one of her sons and Dr. Santos flew to Chicago where she underwent the intricate five-hour surgery at NorthShore.

The procedure went precisely as planned, and her recovery moved quickly. Lanna is now back with her loving family in Brazil. Her follow-up treatment includes regular checkups, echocardiograms and an ultrasound every two years. All because of the specialized expertise found at NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute.

If you are interested in supporting NorthShore's Cardiovascular Institute you may contact Walt Cody at 224.364.7204 for more information. 

Reclaiming Love and Life Through Loss

One way charitable donations to NorthShore make a difference for families is through the funding of NorthShore’s Perinatal Family Support Center (PFSC). Families facing the loss of an infant can turn to PFSC for a range of supportive services and care for patients and their families dealing with challenges related to pregnancy, birth, prematurity or perinatal loss.

Pain Beyond Words

Briana Quinn of Evanston was one of those patients who endured the devastation after her daughter Chelsea was stillborn. Like others before her, Quinn left the hospital empty and lost.

“It was horrible,” she recalled. “The night I got home, I just needed so badly to hold something. It was a consuming emptiness.”

Quinn, who is a nurse, and her husband Ryan wanted to do something to keep baby Chelsea’s name alive, give meaning to her life, and help others experiencing the same loss and desperation.

Friends and family donated to a fund in Chelsea’s memory, and her parents worked with PFSC Supervisor Janet Winslow to bring Comfort Cubs—therapeutic, weighted teddy bears—to NorthShore patients who experience a perinatal loss, go through the loss of a premature infant in the Infant Special Care Unit (ISCU) or place a baby for adoption.

The wonderful team of nurses came to my aid like angels, reminding me that there’s love and gentle compassion despite the sorrow.

Jessica Shell
Perinatal Family Support Patient

Paying It Forward

Jessica Shell, also of Evanston, was one of the first mothers at NorthShore to be given a Comfort Cub after her son Shiloh was stillborn at 37 weeks.


Both Quinn and Shell had high praise and enormous gratitude for the labor and delivery nurses who supported them. “The wonderful team of nurses came to my aid like angels, reminding me that there’s love and gentle compassion despite the sorrow,” noted Shell.

Helpful Support and Guidance

The PFSC team assists families in creating lasting memories of their children. “We encourage parents to hold, sing, read, bathe and dress their baby, as appropriate, while still in the hospital,” explained Winslow. Families are offered professional bereavement photography, provided at no cost. PFSC staff also can provide follow-up calls in the weeks after a loss, as well as referrals to trained counselors.

New Beginnings

After their losses, both Shell and Quinn had healthy pregnancies and parallel positive experiences with NorthShore’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) team. Quinn gave birth to her daughter Vivian, who joined older brothers Mark and Ben. Shell welcomed son Dylan, who happily made 3-year-old Kaydence a big sister. “The MFM team was tremendous in helping me through the entire pregnancy. Midwife Gina Russano was phenomenal, especially toward the end when I was feeling really scared,” said Quinn.

To support the efforts of NorthShore’s PFSC, including raising funds for Comfort Cubs in memory of Chelsea Anne Smerek, donate here. 

Fall 2019

Importance of Genetic Testing

Your generous giving supports programs like DNA-10K. The DNA-10K pilot, launched last spring, is currently the largest national program of its kind. It delivers the power of genomics to routine primary care at population scale. To date, 7,000 patients have accessed this groundbreaking effort.

Patients like Julie Galassini know all too well the importance of this kind of testing. The BRCA1 genetic mutation runs deep within her immediate family. A mail-in genetics test in 2017 informed Julie that she tested positive for the mutation. A previous test two decades ago had put her in the clear.


My experience at NorthShore was outstanding—and looking back, this whole situation was kind of like a weird miracle.

Julie Galassini,
NorthShore’s Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine Patient

Julie had concerns about the differing results. Her first call was to NorthShore’s Gustavo Rodriguez, MD, the Matthews Family Chair of Gynecologic Oncology Research, who had treated her older sister. Dr. Rodriguez ordered a new, more advanced medical-grade screening at NorthShore’s Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine, which confirmed that she was indeed BRCA1 positive.

Vital philanthropic funding helps support the Neaman Center. The Center offers the latest, most comprehensive genetic screening panels. It also provides vital counseling services for patients of all ages on how to better prevent and treat a wide range of inherited conditions.

Five months after undergoing a minimally invasive full hysterectomy, Julie had a bilateral mastectomy with NorthShore’s Chief of Surgical Oncology Katharine Yao, MD, followed by reconstructive surgery with NorthShore-affiliated Plastic Surgeon Geoffrey Fenner, MD.

“At least this is a gene that you can react to and save your own life,” Julie added. “We’re lucky in that respect.” 

Crucial philanthropic funding totaling more than $2.6 million has made the DNA-10K pilot possible. This is just one way NorthShore is working to change the way medicine is practiced.


A Nationwide Shortage

Initial funding for NorthShore’s new multidisciplinary Pituitary Center came from grateful patients of recently retired NorthShore Endocrinologist William Kerr, MD, and the Department of Medicine. The Kerr Innovation and Education Fund also supports medical education and advancements in patient care.

The Pituitary Center is the first of its kind in Chicagoland. Something Maria Xoy, age 22, came to appreciate. At 4 feet, 9 inches tall and normally weighing in at 100 pounds—Maria suddenly began gaining weight without any change in her diet. In two months, she put on 20 pounds and would eventually hit 150—an extreme weight for her tiny frame.

“There was a lot of weird stuff going on with my body,” Maria recalled. “I felt so ugly, my clothes didn’t fit anymore and I just wanted to lock myself in my room.” She grew increasingly tired, too. Even lifting a jacket off a hanger in her closet was overwhelming. Maria sought help from NorthShore.

“We diagnosed Maria with a rare, cyclical form of Cushing’s disease. Her body produced too much of the hormone cortisol for weeks, then suddenly the problem would disappear and her tests would normalize,” explained Endocrinologist Jill Apel, MD. “That fluctuation made her diagnosis much trickier.”

Nearly two years after surgery, Maria is back to her normal weight and feeling healthy and energetic. Thanks to philanthropic support—NorthShore is addressing a nationwide shortage of endocrinologists and continuing its excellence in advanced techniques.

Through NorthShore’s new Center, we hope to improve access so our patients get the care they need much more efficiently.

Romy Block, MD, FACE
Division Chief of Endocrinology


New Rapid Response Protocol Saves Lives

Your giving helps NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute offer our patients the most advanced treatment options and surgical interventions available. Jim Hessenthaler experienced this vital work when a serious heart issue nearly put an end to his mission work and his life.

Jim was transferred in grave condition to NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, where he was seen by Cardiologist Jay Alexander, MD, and Surgeon Jonathan Somers, MD. A transesophageal echocardiogram, which provides a clearer assessment of heart structure and function, found that Hessenthaler’s aortic valve was failing.

Not only did the NorthShore cardio team have the expertise to address Hessenthaler’s life-threatening issue, but also the Institute recently implemented a new rapid response protocol to better handle these kinds of emergencies, explained Justin Levisay, MD, who serves as Medical Director for NorthShore’s Cardiac Catheterization Labs.

The valve had torn, and I was being starved of blood to my brain and other parts of my body. I would have died if they hadn’t taken quick action.

Jim Hessenthaler,
NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute Patient

Philanthropy is vital to sustaining and growing the Cardiovascular Institute’s programs. Programs that also helped patients like Milton Pickett. Milton was suffering from advanced heart failure. The longtime Evanston resident had less than a year to live before NorthShore cardiologists intervened and saved his life.

Two years later, the 72-year-old enjoys a full life and has returned to his nearly 50-year career as a barber and reopened his business. “I feel 100 percent better,” said Milton. “I can do what I want, and it was great to get back to work!”

Generous support is helping to create a highly personalized patient experience, a destination education program for the next generation of cardiac specialists and a pioneering research program that leads the way in developing transformative innovations in care.



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