Record family gift to KU Health System has special connection

Editor's note: Some of the interviews and footage in the video above were provided by the KU Health System. 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The University of Kansas Health System will finish out the final three floors of the new Cambridge North Tower, which opened just last November.

The Sunderland Foundation, formed with the sale of Overland Park based Ash Grove Cement in June, has pledged $66 million to the capital campaign for the tower, putting it over the top.

In interviews provided by the University of Kansas Health System, Charlie Sunderland and others touted the success of the campaign and what it will mean.
For Sunderland, it was about trusting executives and healthcare providers on the front lines.

"I've been on the board now for 18 years," Sunderland said of his time on the KU Hospital Authority Board. "I understand everything from the financial side to the quality of care side."

The gift is the largest private donation to the hospital, and will allow its Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and its Divison of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy to come together for the first time to provide patient care and research.

"The patient population that this will support, our BMT patient population, is really one of the sickest populations at some point during their care and during their treatment," noted VP and COO Tammy Peterman. "And we'll work real hard to think about those needs as we build out those top two floors."

Beyond patient care, the BMT program is also doing research on cutting edge genetic treatments that turn the body's own immune system into a weapon against the cancer.

"Taking components of the immune system out of the blood from a patient and genetically reengineering that to do what that should have done in the first place, and prevented that cancer from forming." says Dr. Joseph McGuirk, the BMT Program Director. "Reengineering them and expanding them and infusing them back in the patient and they chase after the cancer cells, attach to them, punch holes in them and kill them."

For KU Health System President and CEO Bob Page, the gift brings the complex full circle from 23 years ago, when the state handed the newly formed KU Hospital Authority a $23 million dollar check to help it separate from the academic programs that are now under the KU Medical Center banner.

"It's something you can't even grasp, because 20 years ago we were just trying to stay open," Page remembers. "Now we're on the national and international map, and this will propel us into the future."

Former Burns and McDonnell CEO Greg Graves and his wife Deann chaired the capital campaign for the 11 story Cambridge North Tower, which launched in 2014.

"So we've completed the capital campaign. Whew!" Graves sighs. "And now, like any large nationally renowned hospital, the next priority will come."

But for now the work begins to design the three floors for patient care and research. Executives say healthcare providers and patients will be tapped for help in that process.

That may mean more work for Charlie Sunderland. He's not only a board member, he's a former KU Hospital patient.

"I`m a stem cell transplant survivor, happily healthy guy cruising along. Obviously that`s a place that`s near and dear to my heart."

To the tune of $66 million, and a new future for regional and national healthcare in blood and marrow science.