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Gifts bolster otolaryngology, Alzheimer’s disease programs

Sep. 15, 2022, 8:41 AM


by Emily Stembridge

Former patient Herbert Christopher poses for a photo with Elizabeth Perkins, MD, the first Christopher fellow of Otolaryngology.
Former patient Herbert Christopher poses for a photo with Elizabeth Perkins, MD, the first Christopher fellow of Otolaryngology.

Herbert Christopher, a grateful Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery patient who received cochlear hearing implants from David Haynes, MD, has funded the training of otolaryngology fellows and leaders in Alzheimer’s disease care through several outright endowed gifts and additional gift planning with his estate.

A Tennessee native, Christopher worked in California for 42 years as a brakeman and conductor for the Union Pacific Railroad while investing in real estate and the stock market. He is a third-degree Master Mason and three-time Master of his lodge in California during which time he has been devoted to service to others and to the community.

Christopher was referred to Haynes, professor of Otolaryngology and Hearing and Speech Sciences, for his hearing to be assessed in 2020. Haynes implanted a cochlear device for Christopher shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which has greatly improved his hearing and quality of life.

The compassionate and dedicated care he received from Haynes inspired Christopher to give back to VUMC and help train the next generation of leaders in the field. In 2020, Christopher established the Herbert O. and Vineta Christopher Fellowship to support otolaryngology and neurotology fellows at VUMC.

A year later he created the Herbert O. and Vineta Christopher Directorship to support leaders focused on research, patient care and training in Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders. Angela Jefferson, PhD, professor of Neurology and founding director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center, is the inaugural holder of the directorship.

“I am so grateful to have been chosen as one of the recipients of the Christophers’ generous gifts,” Jefferson said. “With the support of this directorship, our center will be able to continue to be on the forefront of cutting-edge outreach and research in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias” she said.

Jefferson is the principal investigator of the Vanderbilt Memory and Aging Project, a longitudinal cohort study, examining the complex intersection of vascular health and Alzheimer’s disease. She has extensive leadership and research experiences in the fields of cerebrovascular aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Both funds were named to recognize the dedication of his late wife, Vineta, to Christopher during their 57-year marriage.

“There’s someone out there that needs this treatment, and that’s what drives me,” Christopher said. “As I reach the end of my time, I know I have to leave something behind. The good Lord blessed me, so I act accordingly.”

In June 2022, Christopher delivered the last portion of the fellowship funding to Eben Rosenthal, MD, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology, Elizabeth Perkins, MD, the first Christopher fellow of Otolaryngology, and Haynes in person.

“The generous gift of Mr. Christopher has allowed our senior neurotology fellows to enhance their training in cochlear implant surgery and complex skull base disorders and contribute to cutting-edge research that will improve our outcomes in adult and pediatric patients in the future,” Haynes said.

Christopher was drawn to the idea of an endowment to continue attracting the best physicians to VUMC. His hope is that advanced training opportunities from the endowment will lead to better care and results for patients and their families.

“I’ve always wanted to leave a few grains of sand on the beaches of time,” Christopher said. “I hope that people will benefit from this. I don’t think there’s a better feeling a human being can have than to know that they have been responsible for other people’s benefit.”

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