By Bobby Hundley, UNC Health Foundation
It was a particularly long and cold midwestern winter that brought Ginny and Doug Ware to North Carolina.
Visiting the state during a college tour with their daughter, the Indiana natives made the decision to relocate to the warmer climate of Chapel Hill. It was a move that has had a profound impact on their lives, and one that has led to an incredible show of support for UNC’s Saira Z. Sheikh, MD.
“I had been struggling with a myriad of symptoms for close to a decade,” Ginny said. “We’d been through neurologists, migraine specialists, all kinds of medications which didn’t agree with me.”
After a blood screening with her internist picked up two markers for the autoimmune disease Lupus, Ginny was referred to Dr. Saira Sheikh, the Linda Coley Sewell Distinguished Professor of Medicine Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology and Director of the UNC Rheumatology Lupus Clinic and Director of Clinical Trials at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center (TARC).
For the Wares, the connection with Sheikh was immediate.
“All I can say is that Dr. Sheikh is just a level above,” Ginny said. “You know instantly that she is focused on you, she wants to hear about where you are and what you’re dealing with.”
A natural fit
Philanthropy has long been important to the Wares, and the couple is driven by a desire to help others. After some conversations with a neighbor who is also a patient of Dr. Sheikh’s, Ginny knew that the unique combination of research and care was a perfect opportunity.
“I said to Doug, ‘this is something that I really, really want to support.’ It feels like the kind of support that we have done. You can see it, you can touch it. It reaches out and it helps a broad range of people. It completely meshed with what we’ve done in terms of charitable giving (in the past).”
“I’m a great believer in education and in research,” Doug said. “I spent most of my career in research, so I guess I didn’t really take a whole lot of convincing. We’ve been more fortunate probably than we ever deserved to be, but the only thing you can do is help other people and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”
A native of Huntington, Indiana, where he had a distinguished career in animal nutrition, Doug was also taken by how Dr. Sheikh combines cutting-edge research with empathetic patient care.
“I’ve seen a lot of doctors in my career with all kinds of personalities,” Doug said. “(Dr. Sheikh) is one incredible person. I don’t think I’ve met anyone like her. Ginny’s a good judge of character and she was very high on her right away. Not only that, I’ve seen what she’s done for Ginny. We’ve had a decade of struggles trying to get her diagnosis and treatment.”
“I think that’s absolutely the reason that we stepped forward,” Ginny said of Dr. Sheikh’s unique blend of skills. “In our history, we have a clear respect for research. To be able to see that kind of research being done by a physician who has such dynamic patient empathy and skill…you just don’t find that. She’s the first physician that we’ve met who clearly has all of that.”
Supporting a vision for a brighter future
While the Wares were touched right away by Sheikh’s approach, she too felt a special connection early on.
“Ginny and Doug are such wonderful human beings,” Sheikh said. “I recall being moved by Ginny’s grace and resilience, in the face of a challenging autoimmune disease, and inspired by her courage. I was impressed by Doug’s scientific expertise and the thoughtful questions he asked to better understand and support Ginny’s health condition.”
After coming to the decision to support Sheikh’s work, Doug and Ginny made a gift of $500,000 to create the Virginia A. and Douglas R. Ware Fund for Excellence in Autoimmune Diseases. Sheikh says its impact goes well beyond a single gift in terms of its potential to improve patient lives.
“The Virginia A. and Douglas R. Ware Fund for Excellence in Autoimmune Diseases will support my vision for a program at TARC with potential for much larger impact – a platform to develop ground-breaking ideas, and a community of doctors, researchers and patients who are working closely together to advance science and to improve the lives of individuals with autoimmune diseases,” Sheikh said.
“Philanthropic gifts such as the Ware gift are critical to our work, and to advancing science. The gift will support projects that test novel hypotheses that aim to advance our knowledge and understanding of Lupus, which is a complex autoimmune disease.”
While the gift will impact autoimmune disease research and treatment, it has also had a meaningful personal impact.
“Words cannot adequately express how meaningful this support is to me,” Sheikh said. “I am so incredibly touched and grateful for the generosity, kindness, and partnership of patients such as Ginny, who choose to support our work.”
“It is such a blessing and a gift for me to be able to contribute to the health and healing of my patients on a daily basis, and I am truly humbled when patients share the impact that our care has on their lives.”
For Doug, it was a chance to say thank you and to support a program that has wide-reaching potential.
“When you get to our stage of life, medicine becomes important. And to be able to support medical research here in North Carolina not only benefits us, but it benefits everyone in the state and beyond. I see applications for the work Dr. Sheikh is doing all over the world.”
For Ginny, who spent her career as a speech pathologist and speech therapist working in elementary schools and hospitals, it felt like a logical next step in a life spent serving others.
“It just feels like I have come full circle. I have been the recipient of such great care, but I can also give back.”
To learn more about supporting the work being done by Dr. Saira Sheikh and her team at UNC, please contact Leslie H. Nelson-Bernier at firstname.lastname@example.org.