P&S Journal: Spring 1997, Vol.17, No.2
Businessman Gives $13.5 Million for Diabetes Research, Treatment
A gift from Russ and Angelica Berrie will advance CPMC as the only comprehensive diabetes research and treatment center in the New York tri-state area by creating the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center in memory of Mr. Berrie's mother.
The $13.5 million gift also will further construction of Audubon's second building, the Center for Disease Prevention, which will be renamed the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion and which will house the diabetes center. A dedication ceremony is planned for May.
Mr. Berrie, owner and founder of the company that bears his name, and his wife pledged the gift to help establish a world-class diabetes center drawing on current research and clinical advances at Columbia.
An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes, a leading cause of death and disability. Because complications that can result from diabetes are so varied-blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, amputations, and nerve damage-interdisciplinary coordination of care is required. An estimated 10 percent of the nation's diabetic population lives in the New York tri-state area, illustrating the critical need for a comprehensive center here.
The Berrie gift will be used to establish an interdisciplinary center for diabetes care, education, and research under the direction of Dr. Robin Goland, a Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine. "The center will be the first comprehensive multidisciplinary diabetes center in the New York area offering patients with diabetes both state-of-the-art clinical care for all aspects of their diabetes as well as access to world-class research into the cause and complications of this important, common, and chronic disease," says Dr. Goland. "The goal of diabetes care at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center will be to provide individualized medical, nutritional, and educational services as needed by the patient and to coordinate the sometimes bewildering array of specialties that may be required to treat the multiorgan-system effects of diabetes."
Russ Berrie and Company is one of the world's leading suppliers of toyys and gifts ranging from stuffed animals to home decor and accessories. In 1963, Mr. Berrie launched the business in a rented New Jersey garage with $500 in start-up capital. Today, the company offers more than 7,000 products through 40,000 U.S. retail outlets and a number of international subsidiaries.
Mr. Berrie's interest in diabetes stems from personal experience: He has diabetes, as did his mother. His decision to make a gift to Columbia was influenced by three factors: a fondness for Dr. Arnold Gold, professor of clinical pediatrics and of neurology, who started a foundation to promote humanism in medicine; an appreciation for the kind of care given at CPMC; and Columbia's location. "Dr. Gold is one of my dearest friends, and I know through experience that Columbia practices what it preaches in caring about patients as people. A secondary point is since I grew up in the Bronx and learned so much there, I thought it would be fitting to give back to our great city what I think it needs so badly," says Mr. Berrie.
Mr. Berrie also has contributed the gift of time to Columbia. For the past three years, Dr. Goland, his diabetes specialist, has invited Mr. Berrie to speak to students. "Since I'm a very active person, I show them a real live specimen of someone who's had diabetes for 32 years and still lives actively," says Mr. Berrie. At those visits, Mr. Berrie distributes troll dolls dressed in white coats. "Trolls are a sign of good luck," he says. He hopes the dolls remind students to care for their patients as if they were family. "I tell them that caring for the body and mind is something that will actually heal patients. If we all can act toward each other with respect-particularly doctors who have such an influence-we've accomplished something."
Many of Dr. Goland's students describe Mr. Berrie's lecture as one of the best and most effective in their classes. "I pride myself on my teaching," says Dr. Goland, "and it has been a humbling experience to hear medical students refer to me as 'the doctor who brought Mr. Berrie to give that extraordinary lecture!'"