A foundation of faith and philanthropy
Cancer diagnosis inspires Jerry Harris to make gift to UC Cancer Center
Jerry Harris, JD ’72, is not the fearsome litigator you expect when he opens the door to his home. His hair is shoulder-length; his feet are bare. He has two raucous (yet adorable) dogs on leashes and an adorable grandchild on the couch with his wife of 50-plus years, Carol. In this sea of noise, Jerry is a picture of Zen calm and peace. The pandemic brought a retired Jerry Harris back home to Cincinnati from Florida to be closer to their children, grandchildren and siblings. But with that return came a diagnosis of cancer — and Jerry’s purpose.
Jerry came to the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, and to Pier Paolo Scaglioni, MD, professor and Herbert F. Koch Endowed Chair in the Division of Hematology Oncology, for the same reason many do — dissatisfaction with care received elsewhere.
“I had some scans that concerned me and that I believe were not acted upon in a timely manner. My sister’s close friend Don Wayne, MD, at UC Health recommended Dr. Scaglioni and Dr. John Byrd, [the Gordon and Helen Hughes Taylor Professor and chair, Department of Internal Medicine,] for follow up. In short order, not only was my lymphoma addressed, but thyroid cancer was also discovered and subsequently treated,” states Jerry.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I recognized the time had come to not only do something at present, but also in the future.
Jerry Harris, JD '72
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I recognized the time had come to not only do something at present, but also in the future,” Jerry shares. The Harris family then established the Jerry and Carol Harris Family Scholar Award for Cancer Research.
With the help of Scaglioni and Byrd, they crafted the focus: supporting promising young cancer scientists conducting research in the fields of genomic medicine, immunotherapy, developmental therapeutics, cancer biology and/or stem cell research at the UC College of Medicine. In other words, funding the future of cancer care. Jerry and Carol have committed to fund the Scholar Award annually and have included a generous provision in their estate plan to ultimately endow the award in perpetuity.
The first Harris Scholar is Anusha Anukanth, MD, instructor of clinical, Internal Medicine. Anukanth joined the team in 2022 from Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio and will be focusing her research on developing cellular therapies to treat hematologic malignancies.
“Through support from people like Jerry and Carol Harris, we are able to assist early career cancer scientists, future leaders, with funding early,” notes Scaglioni. “We are able to foster a pipeline of talent, support these individuals with an eye toward their staying on here and conducting groundbreaking work.”
“For years I’ve had an interest in the genome pattern,” said Jerry. “I prefer to use my money in the hope that gene therapy and other novel pursuits will be the future of medicine.”
Jerry’s family — his siblings and children — also were able to benefit from his care team putting together the pieces of Jerry’s oncological and genetic puzzle. Upon working with David Steward, MD, the Helen Bernice Broidy Professor and chair of Otolaryngology, it was found that Jerry has a genetic predisposition for thyroid cancer.
At his urging, a close family member subsequently visited Steward and also was diagnosed with early thyroid cancer, which was successfully treated. Jerry and Carol’s children also qualify for early cancer detection.
Sharing your time or money for good is something that was modeled by family members for as long as Jerry can remember.
“Charitable giving was a major part of my upbringing. We were always taught we had a responsibility to help the less fortunate. My paternal grandfather had no money but gave of his time. He founded the Knothole Baseball program in Cincinnati and was involved with charities for the blind, orphans and veterans. He was always volunteering somewhere,” notes Jerry.
Charitable giving was a family priority, but also is reinforced through Jerry’s Jewish faith.
“Through my studies with rabbis, my charitable inclination was reinforced. We call it 'Tzedakah' (the Hebrew word for philanthropy and charity). I realized that God was giving me a chance to make a difference,” says Jerry.
One of the ways Jerry’s philanthropy makes a difference, now and in the future, is through the research areas he chose to fund: precision cancer treatments.
By harnessing the power of personal DNA, your own immune system, and with the use of data, physicians can provide increasingly individualized clinical care.
These treatments may replace traditional standardized treatments like chemotherapy, and often can be much easier physically on the patient. Funding the future is Jerry Harris’s ideal use of his philanthropy.
Through support from people like Jerry and Carol Harris, we are able to assist early career cancer scientists, future leaders, with funding early. We are able to foster a pipeline of talent, support these individuals with an eye toward their staying on here and conducting groundbreaking work.
Pier Paolo Scaglioni, MD Professor and Herbert F. Koch Endowed Chair in the Division of Hematology Oncology
The Harris’ gift to research will also strengthen and support the Cancer Center’s path toward becoming a National Cancer Institute designated center.
“I felt strongly that this was a golden opportunity to give back to something that is so important,” Jerry said. “Cancer touches everybody.”
For Carol, she is grateful that Jerry and their family have had such a positive experience with the Cancer Center. “Jerry and I are both thankful for the wonderful doctors and staff he encountered as a patient at UC Health. They have provided us with so much–better health, more time to spend with our family and grandkids and a legacy of giving that will last far into the future.”
Featured image at top: John Byrd, MD, Pier Paolo Scaglioni, MD, Anusha Anukanth, MD. Photo: Colleen Kelley for the UC Foundation.
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