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

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.



Summer 2019

After experiencing alarming episodes of rapid heart rate during strenuous exercise, college lacrosse player Charlie Hildestad turned to NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute’s Mark Metzl, MD. The interventional cardiologist employed an innovative wearable device called an AliveCor KardiaBand, which—functioning like a mobile EKG—enabled Dr. Metzl to diagnose Hildestad with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Once he made the diagnosis, Dr. Metzl scheduled the athlete for a minimally invasive ablation procedure, which corrected the condition and allowed him to return to the lacrosse field for a conference-winning season. Dozens of grateful patients and family members invest in NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute’s research and clinical programs every year, supporting diagnostic and treatment innovations that save lives.
A NorthShore multispecialty care team helped Edna Molina lose 40 pounds, reversing her nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that can be life-threatening if not treated. Liver Specialist and Hepatology Section Chief Claus Fimmel, MD, and Preventive Cardiologist David Davidson, MD, head of NorthShore's Weight Loss Management Program, treated Molina. She and her husband both benefited from the program’s recommended lifestyle changes, which include a well-designed diet, exercise, and sometimes medication to manage related factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Now both feel younger with more energy to devote to activities like boating on Lake Michigan. Donor support has been critical to helping NorthShore promote healthy lifestyles through this and other programs.
Retired computer programmer Dan Carlson knew he might be at higher risk for developing an age-related brain disorder like Alzheimer’s disease because of his mother’s memory problems. His physician advised him to make an appointment with the Center for Brain Health at NorthShore Neurological Institute to learn about ways to offset any predisposition to age-related memory problems. The Center’s clinicians—including Neurologist Chad Yucus, MD—provide patients like Carlson with a personalized plan to reduce their risk for neurodegenerative diseases. Often their recommendations include things such as genetic testing, nutrition and physical fitness counseling, cognitive exercises, and lifestyle coaching. The Auxiliary of NorthShore and numerous grateful patients have helped make the Center for Brain Health’s programs possible.


Spring 2019

Randy Gladstone beat his Stage IV throat cancer and found his voice again thanks to NorthShore’s expert head and neck cancer care. Grateful patients of Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon Mihir Bhayani, MD, help advance research that’s improving care for patients like Randy through philanthropic gifts. Thanks to these generous donors, Dr. Bhayani and his team have built a biorepository to help study the biological behavior of individual cancers, better predict prognoses, guide therapy and monitor response to treatment. Another group of grateful patients, HeadStrong Voices for Healing, has also rallied to raise additional funds for this important research.
Julia Hollenbeck, a 10-year-old from Evanston, faced her orthopaedic surgery with minimal anxiety thanks to a new virtual reality (VR) technology available at NorthShore. The Child’s Play Charity, Starlight Children’s Foundation and Sigma Sigma Sigma Foundation provided funding to purchase VR headsets, giving NorthShore’s Child Life Specialists a powerful tool to ease patients’ fears. Today, our young patients can choose from more than 25 immersive experiences, including playing games, hang gliding and walking through London.
Rebecca Marsalli has taken control of her breast cancer risk now that genetic testing at NorthShore’s Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine identified her BRCA1 gene mutation. As a young mom, she knows how important her health is to her son’s future, so she’s working with her primary care physician to implement a regular schedule of breast exams, MRIs and mammograms to closely monitor her breast health. Philanthropic gifts from dozens of generous donors is driving availability of genetic testing for patients like Rebecca by providing crucial funding for the new DNA-10K program currently offering 10,000 eligible patients free comprehensive genetic testing with their annual physical.


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