Family Finds Great Joy in Giving Back

Harold Morrison and his family

Harold Morrison (front, left) and his family

Harold Morrison’s pancreatic cancer announced itself with rapid weight loss while he was on a trip to Ireland. Once home, a diagnosis and surgery were followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Finally, several trying months later, Morrison was relieved to receive a clean computed tomography (CT) scan the same day he was tested. A surprise gift made his recovery an even greater cause for celebration. 

The constant supporters of Morrison’s large extended family wanted to celebrate Morrison’s good health and especially honor his physician, NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) surgeon and Chairman of the Department of Surgery Mark Talamonti, MD, who they said was “relentlessly positive” and offered objective and caring communication from diagnosis through treatment.

To this end, family members surprised Morrison on his 80th birthday with a gift to support pancreatic cancer research. Morrison and his daughter Lois personally presented Dr. Talamonti with an $80,000 check to sustain research developing new treatment options for patients with pancreatic cancer. Both Dr. Talamonti and Morrison lost their fathers to the disease and each want their children and others to run less risk of a fatal encounter with it.

It was Morrison’s sudden weight loss seven months ago that triggered his general practitioner at NorthShore, Gerald Osher, MD, to respond immediately and order a series of tests. ”Dr. Osher quarterbacked the whole thing,” said Morrison’s brother-in-law, Harrison Steans. “After testing confirmed pancreatic cancer, Dr. Osher told the family ‘you can travel far and wide, but the best doctor for your cancer surgery is Dr. Talamonti. The finest is right here at NorthShore.’” After meeting with Dr. Talamonti, Morrison and his family decided to look no further.

A national leader in surgical oncology, Dr. Talamonti has performed more than 600 Whipple procedures on pancreatic cancer patients; a complex operation that involves removing the gallbladder, portions of the pancreas and small intestine, and localized lymph nodes, as well as reconstructing this section of the digestive system. “I was lucky that I qualified for the Whipple procedure, which I understand only 15 percent of those with pancreatic cancer do,” said Morrison. “Still, when I heard the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is only six percent, I was discouraged to learn that it is as grim today as when my father was diagnosed with the disease 47 years ago.”

The donation for his doctor’s research was the “perfect birthday gift,” said the active retired scientist and engineer who sings tenor at his church and who swam and played tennis right up until the day before his surgery back in October. Recognizing Morrison’s post-operative state and aversion to fuss over his 80th birthday, the family decided that the best way to celebrate his recovery would be by giving back to NorthShore and his doctor’s research.

“He knew nothing about it so we were able to surprise him,” said Morrison’s wife Adeline. “$80,000 for 80 years felt right. Harold is a blessing to others. He didn’t want or really feel up to a party and he’s not materialistic so this was the right thing to do. With this huge extended family, we don’t do anything in isolation. The idea grew out of family.”

The close knit Morrison-Steans-Hunter families made sure that Harold’s journey to recovery was not a solitary one. A family home near NorthShore Evanston Hospital became a command post and hospitality center for relatives visiting Morrison. Daughter Amy, a pastor who provided spiritual support when he was ill, said his scientific mind enabled him to visualize the mechanics of how the body works so that he was able to “get down to business, just do it and persevere through any obstacles.”

Daughter Margot, who lives out of state and flew in every other week to help with her dad, observed that when illness strikes, “Strong families seem to get stronger.” She said her dad lived through his illness the way he lives life–to the fullest and with lots of discipline and courage. Everyone in the family volunteered to help. Morrison’s nearby sister made sure her brother walked around the hospital every day that he could.  

Daughter Helen said Dr. Talamonti’s involvement sustained them all “because he was always there for the family, and even spent more than an hour with us after Dad’s six-hour surgery explaining the finer details of the procedures and what would happen next.”  

“He educated us and we became advocates,” added Morrison’s wife. “We had and have absolute faith and trust in our medical team.”

Dr. Talamonti said he believes philanthropy and gifts such as the Morrison’s is essential to advance the translational research that helps patients recover and thrive. “I am truly humbled by the depth of the Morrisons’ appreciation and respect,” said Dr. Talamonti. “It really is about our team and we have assembled an awesome team in the clinic, in the operating room and on the floors.” Today, Harold Morrison is regaining his strength and looking forward to resuming his busy life, surrounded by his caring and committed family.

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