NorthShore’s quarterly Connections magazine shares stories of real people in our community who have benefited from the superior clinical care, exceptional patient experiences and innovative research at NorthShore.

Did you know that charitable donations to NorthShore help power all of this, while also assisting our underserved neighbors who can’t afford healthcare?

Learn here about how philanthropy has impacted care for the patients you read about in Connections.


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. 

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