Historic Medical Donation

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The St. Joseph’s Foundation has been given a $19 million donation by Arizona philanthropists John and Doris Norton to establish the John and Doris Norton Thoracic Institute. The donation will help create centers for lung, heart and esophageal medicine at Dignity Health’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Dr. Ross Bremner, director of the lung transplant program at St. Joseph’s, will discuss this donation and what it means for healthcare in Arizona.

Ted Simons: St. Joseph hospital today announced its largest ever donation, a $19 million gift that will be used to develop a new thoracic institute at the hospital's Phoenix campus. Here now is Dr. Ross Bremner Director of the John and Doris Norton Thoracic Institute. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ross Bremner: Thank you Ted, thank you.

Ted Simons: I guess the new name says it all. The National Night Out, $19 million from the Norton family.

Ross Bremner: Incredibly generous isn't it?

Ted Simons: Yeah. And talk about the family now, and then we'll talk about the institute.

Ross Bremner: Well, the family actually being in Arizona for at least three generations, and they have really made a big difference in Arizona. They were part of the development of the agriculture, part of the development of the saltwater project, and John Norton actually was a deputy secretary of agriculture to the Reagan administration, being a big farmer himself. The family have been devoted to St. Joseph for a long time, the family saved John's life at the age of seven with an emergency operation. And he was born there all of his kids were born there, and they have been long-term benefactors of the hospital, and really delightful people.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And this is quite the gift. This is for a thoracic Institute. What is thoracic medicine?

Ross Bremner: So I'm a thoracic surgeon, and thoracic diseases really are all the diseases that occur in your chest. So this is the heart, lungs, and the esophagus primarily. When I came out here about eight years ago, we came to actually start the thoracic program at St. Joseph's hospital, and it's grown very rapidly, and I've been able to recruit some incredible physicians and allied staff to help us develop the programs. And about seven years ago we started the valley's first lung transplant program. And that as well has grown very rapidly, last year we were one of the largest lung transplant programs in the country. This is something the Nortons became interested in, and they realized it had potential of developing into something with national recognition, and we believe that we can become sort of the new Barrow of St. joe's in terms of developing the thoracic diseases.

Ted Simons: Indeed, what Barrow is to neurological conditions, this would be -- And this would make a difference. Talk to us about how much of a difference and specifically what the money would be spent on.

Ross Bremner: So we've obviously $19 million is a significant amount of money, and we want to use to it fulfill all the dreams of what we want to do with the thoracic program. Really our goal is to be one of the nation's top thoracic disease programs, and one of the areas that we want to develop is really our research programs. And our research really currently is in three major areas. That of transplant rejection and I'll talk a little bit about that, the big problem with any transplanted organ is with time the body will try to reject them, and those organs slowly lose their function. And lungs, that's a little bit more of a problem than it is, for example, with kidneys or heart. So we're trying to work on ways we can preserve the organ early, before it gets transplanted, and we've got some new trials that are coming up with that that the gift is going to allow to us participate in. And we also are working on ways to slowly, you know, interfere with the host's immune system so that they will accept those organs for a longer period of time.

Ross Bremner: Then the other area, an area that's passionate to my own practice is in the thoracic cancers, and that's esophageal and lung cancers. They're both devastating diseases. Both with overall survival rates that are very poor. And the reason is that most of the time we discover these diseases on the late stage. Esophageal cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the United States at the moment.

Ted Simons: Do we know why?

Ross Bremner: Well it's very closely related to reflux or heartburn, which also is closely related to the obesity epidemic that we have. But there are probably a number of factors involved. But we discover these cancers late when it's very difficult to cure patients. So our research programs are concentrating on early detection and prevention. So screening programs, lung cancer screening programs as well as esophageal screening programs, both with serum blood tests as well as other means of detecting cancers early, when it's easier to cure them.

Ted Simons: Will there be as much emphasis on the clinical as the research? How would that dynamic work?

Ross Bremner: This gift is going to be divided up, a good portion is going to be to develop our research and to continue the partnerships that we have with the University of Arizona, ASU, and the institute. We believe that this gift will help us develop the biomedical infrastructure that Phoenix really needs, and is starting to develop. But apart from the research, we belief it will take our clinical program to the next level. And another portion of the gift is going to be towards our telemedicine program, where we want to be able to reach all Arizonans. It's a little frustrating for us when we have patients that have to travel, four or six hours before they can even get a consultation with us. And we'd like that to be a lot easier for the patients, and we'd like to be able to bring state of the art care to patients across all of Arizona.

Ted Simons: And again, the idea, you mentioned Barrows, which is so well respected for neurological concerns, Cleveland clinic, other areas are known for thoracic medicine. This is possible, it is possible for St. Joseph's to get to that level. Correct?

Ross Bremner: This gift is certainly going to parachute us, shoot us on the way in that direction. I often refer to our program as the Cleveland clinic of the southwest.

Ted Simons: Wow. All right.

Ross Bremner: That's where we're headed.

Ted Simons: So if you're headed that direction when can we expect you to get there? What is the timetable for all this?

Ross Bremner: Well you know, if you let me go we can get going. Obviously this gift is going to be transformative. We want this actually to be the seed for a much larger, long-term project. The Barrow has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. We start our program only eight years ago. I think that as one of the largest lung transplant programs already, give us five or 10 years and I think we'll be there.

Ted Simons: Alright

Ross Bremner: I think this gift is going to be transformative for us.

Ted Simons: And you'll be there on that Phoenix Campus? Will there be more buildings do you think on the Phoenix campus?

Ross Bremner: You know, absolutely.

Ted Simons: Okay, well we'll keep an eye on that. If not then we will know that something is really going on. Hey, great work. Thank you so much for the great work you do and thank you for appearing, and congratulations on what looks to be a very bright future.

Ross Bremner: Thank you very much. And thanks to the family.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Dr. Ross Bremner:Director, Lung Transplant Program at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center;

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