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$1.25 million gift establishes new center for blood disorders

by John Sponauer - December 11, 2006

The Health Center has received a pledge of $1.25 million from a Hartford foundation to establish a new center to study and treat blood diseases.

The Lea's Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders will focus on advancing research and improving treatment and care for patients with benign and malignant blood disorders.

The center will also provide a dedicated space for the children of patients who come to the Health Center for care, allowing patients to undergo treatment without having to worry about childcare.

Leukemia is a disease of the blood-forming organs, characterized by the proliferation of immature white cells causing depletion of red cells and platelets.

There is no known cure for leukemia and its related cancers of lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and multiple myeloma.

It is estimated that in the United States alone, more than 35,000 new cases of leukemia will have been diagnosed in 2006, with more than 22,000 deaths attributed to the disease this year.

"Through this gift, we will be able to translate the latest research directly into patient care," says James Thibeault, director of Signature Programs at the UConn Health Center.

"What we say is 'from bench to bedside.'

"There aren't too many blood centers affiliated with a cancer center, as we will be able to do here," Thibeault adds.

"There's a tremendous demand for these services."

Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Health Center, says the synergy of research and treatment will also attract top faculty.

"This allows us to recruit high-level physicians and national experts in hematological disorders to the UConn Health Center," she says.

"Connecticut residents will benefit tremendously, because they will be able to access the leading researchers in the field."

Lea's Foundation for Leukemia Research was established in 1998 to honor the memory of Lea Michele Economos, who died of leukemia at the age of 28.

It was her dying wish to find a cure so that others would not face the hardship she endured.

The goal of the foundation is to help eradicate leukemia and related diseases.

The funds raised each year by the foundation are awarded to scientists who are investigating promising avenues of research.

Michael Economos, who with his wife Bess created the foundation in their daughter's memory, says the organization's board of directors has long been impressed with the services offered at the UCHC.

"Since the majority of the funds were collected locally, and we live in West Hartford, we wanted to identify and support a premier local institution like the UConn Health Center," he says.

"Our commitment of $1.25 million was a difficult decision and, at the same time, an easy one. We believe Dr. Runowicz's leadership and dedication will make this a success and an asset to the community."

An annual Valentine's Day Ball serves as the primary fund-raising event for the foundation.

The most recent event raised more than $180,000.

The 2007 Valentine's Day Ball will take place on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Hartford Marriott.

For more information and tickets, contact Lea's Foundation at 860-727-8998 or visit http://www.leasfoundation.org.

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