Spring event honors donors’ support and generosity

Members of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Canby Robinson Society recently joined CEO and President Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, and his wife, Melinda, at Cheekwood Botanic Hall for the Spring Donor Celebration, an annual event honoring donors for their loyal support.

In addition to members of the Canby Robinson Society, those in attendance included members of VUMC’s Board of Directors, the advisory boards of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Vanderbilt Eye Institute as well as members of the Canby Robinson Legacy Circle and the Ike and Ann Robinson Society.

“Even during some of the most challenging years in health care, our partnership with each and every one of our supporters has helped us advance new discoveries, personalize patient care and train the next generation of health care leaders,” Balser said.

This year’s Spring Donor Celebration focused on pediatric clinical research in infectious disease and neurology and how philanthropy has helped advance clinical research efforts to benefit patients at VUMC and beyond.

Balser said that pediatric clinical research is one of the many areas where VUMC excels, under the direction of Steven Webber, MBChB, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Pediatrician-in-Chief of Monroe Carell and James C. Overall Professor.

“Under his leadership we have truly become a leading pediatric research center in the United States,” Balser said. “In fact, if you look at all the National Institutes of Health grants awarded in the United States for children’s research, his department is fourth in the nation.”

Balser reminded the group that thanks to their generosity, Monroe Carell was able to embark on a four-floor expansion. Floors 10 and 11 are currently operational and the next phase will include floors 12 and 14.

“In addition to patient beds, for the first time, we will have a dedicated clinical research unit for children at Monroe Carell on the 12th floor, very analogous to what you might see at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or Boston Children’s Hospital. This is very important to the people of this region, and it lets us expand the portfolio of clinical trials we can offer children in Nashville and throughout the Southeast.”

Balser introduced Webber who moderated a discussion with C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, and Lori Jordan, MD, PhD. Creech serves as director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program and is Edie Carell Johnson Professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Jordan is an associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Neurology, director of the Pediatric Stroke Program and assistant director of the Pediatric Neurology Residency Program and holds the directorship in Pediatric Stroke Research. They spoke about vaccines and treatments in neurology for patients with sickle cell disease who have had strokes.

“This year, we’ve received close to $100 million in research support from NIH funding. We spend a lot more than that. Research is expensive, and the reason we’re able to spend a lot more than that is due to the generosity of all of you,” Webber said.

Creech talked about the Medical Center’s “rich history of vaccinology” going back a half century.

“Thankfully we were able to launch a (COVID-19) vaccine very quickly. You can do amazing things when you have a laser focus in trying to prevent or mitigate a pandemic.”

“What we saw was an amazing integration of what we can do at the bedside with what we can do at the bench,” Creech said, adding that he’s “never seen anything like” the speed at which the vaccines were developed, tested and licensed. “It’s truly one of the most wonderful things I’ve been a part of.”

Webber also mentioned the groundbreaking COVID-19 research of James Crowe, MD, the Ann Scott Carell Professor and professor of Pediatrics and of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology at VUMC, and Mark Denison, MD, Edward Claiborne Stahlman Professor of Pediatric Physiology and Cell Metabolism.

Jordan, speaking about pediatric stroke and sickle cell disease, said strokes happen just as often as brain tumors in children. Her research focuses on the use of advanced MRI methods to look at cerebral blood flow and oxygen use in the brain, which help figure out which children are at highest risk for stroke or brain injury and which are candidates for the most aggressive treatments.

In Nigeria, the country with the highest rate of sickle cell disease in the world, she has conducted three clinical trials using an oral drug to reduce stroke risk and treat children with stroke.

“We’ve learned some things that are really important for children in the U.S. as well,” she said.

The evening ended with a special musical appearance by singer/songwriter Shelly Colvin, accompanied by singer/songwriter Ketch Secor. Colvin’s son, Judge, and husband, Jeff, were seriously injured in May 2020 when a massive tree fell on them during a storm as they were trying to safely get to their car after hiking on a trail.

Judge, who was 3 at the time, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was treated at Monroe Carell where he was in a coma for two weeks. Jeff, also critically injured, was hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Hospital. Following their successful recoveries, the Colvins have become staunch advocates for the Medical Center in honor of the care they received.

Sue and Gil Chilton attended this year’s event in recognition of their support for various research initiatives across the organization.

“We’re glad to be here and to play a role in helping the Medical Center provide great care,” Sue Chilton said. “Quality health care is so important to us, especially as Nashville continues to grow so much.”

Sue and Gil Chilton attended the Spring Donor Celebration in recognition of their support for various research initiatives across the organization. (Photos by Susan Urmy)