Physician’s gift establishes center to help others with colorectal disease
Through his generous gift to Cleveland Clinic, a neurosurgeon who passed away in March 2008 is helping people with inherited colorectal disease.
Sanford R. Weiss, MD, of San Francisco, was grateful for the care he received over many years from Victor Fazio, MD, Chairman of the Digestive Disease Institute and holder of The Rupert B. Turnbull, MD, Chair in Colorectal Surgery. Weiss has left a legacy: His $7.2 million transformational gift establishes the Sanford R. Weiss, MD, Center for Hereditary Colorectal Neoplasia and provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the disease and to treat and educate patients. James Church, MD, holder of The Victor W. Fazio, MD, Chair in Colorectal Surgery, serves as Director.
A caricature of Dr. Weiss by well-known artist Charles Bragg, a patient of his. The neurosurgeon had 20 of Bragg's drawings of him displayed throughout his home.
Dr. Weiss had familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), an inherited condition affecting the large intestine. The disorder is uncommon, except in families with an abnormal gene. People with FAP have a 50 percent chance of passing the gene to their children.
Dr. Weiss frequently contended with life-threatening bouts of FAP. “Cleveland Clinic kept him alive from the age of 19 to 77,” says his cousin Marlene Mayers of Pepper Pike, Ohio.
Yet, nothing deterred him from fulfilling his dreams.
“He received a full-ride scholarship to Harvard to major in pre-medicine,” Mrs. Mayers says. Although illness forced his return to Cleveland during his first year, he persevered, eventually completing his medical degree at Case Western Reserve University.
“Medicine was his life,” says Marty Weiss of San Diego, also a cousin of Dr. Weiss. “Everything revolved around his ability to practice.”
Art, Science and Compassion
Dr. Weiss had great respect for Dr. Fazio and his team and referred to the Department of Colorectal Surgery as a place “where the art of medicine is practiced as well as the science of medicine, and the Hippocratic oath really means something.”
Throughout his life, Dr. Weiss experienced what it meant to be ill and in need of compassionate care, Mrs. Mayers says. “He saw medicine from both sides of the desk, and it brought another dimension to his thinking.”
Because of illness, he retired early at age 55. Determined to make the most of life, he traveled the world for the next two decades. Many trips were interrupted by emergency flights to Cleveland Clinic, where he arrived in critical condition. Once back on his feet, however, he was off on his next scuba or rafting adventure.
“He was tough to the end,” Dr. Fazio says of his longtime patient and friend. “He knew what he wanted, and he was a force to be reckoned with.”
Mrs. Mayers agrees. “His was truly a life well lived, and through his generosity and caring and the research that now can be done, many will benefit.”
A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Cleveland Clinic Magazine.
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