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Giving back

Medicine@Yale, 2007 - Sept Oct


Top-notch surgery at Yale inspires a major gift to the School of Medicine

Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock of Branford, Conn., say the primary motivation behind their recent $3 million gift to endow a School of Medicine professorship in pediatric surgery is gratitude. Two of their children have been treated over the years by surgeons at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH), and in each instance, Pritzker and Vlock say, they received excellent medical advice and first-rate care.

The new professorship is named in honor of Karen Pritzker’s father, Robert A. Pritzker, a Chicago-based executive and philanthropist who founded the Marmon Group, an international association of more than 100 manufacturing and service firms that is the 19th largest private company in the U.S. “My father has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to make the world a better place throughout his long business and philanthropic career,” Karen Pritzker says. In May, R. Lawrence “Larry” Moss, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of surgery at YNHCH, was named the first Robert Pritzker Professor of Pediatric Surgery.

“This generous donation represents a quantum leap for Yale Pediatric Surgery,” says Moss. “We ensure that children receive the care they need regardless of their family’s ability to pay, so there are fewer resources to support innovation and discovery. This gift establishes a permanent source of funds to ensure that Yale Pediatric Surgery will always be able to invest in research that will result in continuing improvement in the surgical care of children.”

Robert Pritzker, a 1946 graduate in industrial engineering of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, served as the chair of IIT’s board of directors and gave a significant gift to establish the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering at IIT. He also joined his father and his brothers to make a major gift to the medical school at the University of Chicago, which was renamed the Pritzker School of Medicine in 1968. Pritzker is now CEO of Colson Associates Inc. and of six other companies that manufacture medical devices. He is past chairman of the board of trustees of The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

The new Pritzker Professorship provides support for the clinical expertise that Pritzker and Vlock and thousands of other families rely on, but it will also advance Yale research on pediatric surgery that will improve children’s health at YNHCH and beyond for years to come. Moss, an expert on surgical problems in premature and newborn infants, is a forceful advocate for multicenter clinical trials of surgical procedures, many of which have not been subjected to the same level of scientific scrutiny as medicines. He is also leading his department’s effort to use the latest genomic and proteomic tools to predict outcomes in surgery patients.

In their first experience at YNHCH in 1997, Vlock and Pritzker sought medical opinions on their child’s condition from many other hospitals, but ultimately discovered that, in addition to being close to their Branford, Conn., home, YNHCH had the people and technology to make their child well. “We sent medical records to the finest hospitals around the world, and they all said you have the best team there at Yale, and what that team recommends is the best course of action,” Pritzker recalls. Since an operation by Robert M. Weiss, M.D., now the Donald Guthrie Professor of Surgery, and a week-long hospital stay, their child has been healthy.

Eight years later, the couple found themselves at YNHCH yet again, this time when a second child had a serious accident that resulted in a fractured liver, causing serious internal bleeding. “A team of first-rate doctors and nurses had been assembled and were waiting at the hospital when we arrived,” Pritzker says.

On this occasion Milissa A. McKee, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of surgery and pediatrics, decided against traditional open surgery; instead, in a collaboration with Michael G. Tal, M.D., associate professor of diagnostic radiology, a small embolization catheter was inserted through an artery in the child’s leg and brought to the injury site in the liver to control bleeding.

Though this technique had only ever been attempted in adults, the child healed completely, and Pritzker and Vlock say that McKee and Tal’s decision to opt for a relatively noninvasive procedure was key to their child’s quick recovery.

“My father has taught me by example: one must give back to the people and institutions that have served you,” Pritzker says. “We know Dr. Moss and those who succeed him in the chair will serve our community with distinction. Providing the opportunity for someone of Larry’s skill and stature to build a program at Yale is a privilege, and will ensure that there are permanent resources available to our community for children’s health.”