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Foundation provides funding for breakthrough research

Jackson — Research is crucial to ongoing advancement in healthcare. It is also costly. That’s why the Wilson Research Foundation was established in 1989 to complement the mission of Methodist Rehabilitation Center (MRC) and keep the medical breakthroughs flowing to benefit the physically disabled in Mississippi. The foundation obtains funding for research grants to improve recovery from stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury and adult neurological disorders.

The foundation began with a generous gift from the H.F. McCarty Jr. Family Foundation to honor the contributions of Earl and Martha Wilson to the state’s healthcare. Executive director Bettye Sullivan gives credit to the founders and their families who have remained active in the foundation and maintain personal commitment.

Since 1989, the foundation’s corpus has grown to more than $4.5 million in assets. “It has grown because of the interest of our wonderful board of governors and the services provided here,” Sullivan said. “The interest is here because Mississippi has a high incidence of these injuries. Before Methodist Rehab opened in 1975, patients were going out of state.”

Currently, there are funded programs in the amount of $1,234,692. One of those grants is for research relative to secondary complications of spinal cord injury and another is for studies on hereditary ataxia and implications regarding conditions such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and muscular dystrophy. Both of these research programs are conducted at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The Wilson Foundation launched its first capital campaign in 2000 with the objective of raising $5 million to expand the scope and intensity of spinal cord, stroke and brain injury research at Methodist Rehab Center. To date, $3.77 million has been raised. Monies are raised through grants from other foundations, solicitations from major corporations and by relationships with individuals capable of giving significant contributions. The main ways of raising funds from individuals include matching gifts, planned giving, and gifts of cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, insurance, bequests and special occasion gifts such as memorials and honorariums.

“We must constantly keep abreast of the latest research,” Sullivan said. “Our mission is to recognize discoveries in research and translate that into services for patients here and around the world. It’s important because we can help people with these injuries have a better life and return to the work force.”

Productive return

In Mississippi last year, more than 5,000 people suffered from stroke or traumatic brain or spinal cord injury.

“Fortunately, there are ways to help these people now. Many recover and live productive lives,” Sullivan added.

Jackson physician Dr. Faser Triplett is one of the many patients who recovered at MRC where he came in 2002 after having a stroke. He now serves on the board of directors of the Wilson Research Foundation.

“Methodist was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “You get bright, young people who are constantly evaluating what you are doing right and what you still need to be doing. If you really want to do the right thing for a stroke survivor, they ought to be at Methodist. There’s nothing like it in the state.”

Sullivan stresses that research done in Jackson is networked all over the U.S. and the world and patients come to MRC from all over. “It’s a dedicated research center, meaning we collaborate with people all over the world and share knowledge,” she said.

MRC’s Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery has received major funding. In 2000, its researchers were the first in the world to report a link between West Nile virus and polio-like paralysis. MRC is one of only 16 hospitals in the country designated as a traumatic brain injury model system by the National Institutes on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. It is the only hospital in Mississippi to twice be named one of American’s best by U.S. News & World Report. It is also one of two in the state accepted into the Council of Teaching Hospitals.

Sullivan often speaks to groups around the state to raise awareness of work being done at the rehab center. She asks former patients to tell how the care there changed their lives. There is never a shortage of those willing to testify to the care they were given.

Funding research, changing lives

“Our goal is to continue raising funds to provide more grants for research that will change lives,” she says. “It takes tremendous financial resources to provide research and treatment for these patients.”

Methodist Rehabilitation Center opened as a 60-bed facility and has grown to 124. In 2004, its Specialty Care Center opened in Flowood. It’s a 60-bed, $9-million state-of-the-art medical facility for severely disabled patients who need round-the-clock assistance, and it is the first of its kind in the state. Patients for this new center must meet specific requirements.

Residence apartments are opening for patients who can live on their own with a minimum of assistance. The first one, Webb Park, recently opened in Jackson near Millsaps College. It is named for John Webb, long time director of Mississippi Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Another one is scheduled to open soon in Hattiesburg and a groundbreaking should be taking place soon for one in Meridian.

“These apartments will have a live-in attendant who sees that the needs of the patients are met,” Sullivan said.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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