Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stephen Damm Memorial Award

Cooper, Tyra and Katie before the banquet

Cooper, Shilpa and Katie before the banquet

Friday night our family had the honor of helping to present the Stephen Damm Memorial Award at the UT-Southwestern Department of Neurology graduation banquet. The award recognizes excellence and compassion in patient care in neuro-oncology.

Dr. Shilpa Chitnis petitioned her department for the award back in September. (And she and her husband donated the award money.) Dr. Chitnis was the neurologist who happened to be on service at Zale-Lipshy in late December 2007. She was assigned to Steve after neurosurgery determined that he wasn't a surgical candidate.

She's been a champion of the Damm family ever since. She corresponded with Steve and me throughout his cancer battle, visited us at home, advocated for us, delivered treats to Cooper and Katie, introduced us to her family.

Her last visit with Steve was less than 48 hours before he passed away. In fact, the last photo taken of Steve was taken with Shilpa.

At the banquet Friday night, our family of six (me, Cooper, Katie, Jim, Betty and Uncle Jim) sat among faculty members, including Shilpa, and graduating residents and fellows. We learned of incredibly accomplished doctors and their research and patient care.

One of those doctors is third-year resident James Battiste, the first recipient of the Stephen Damm Memorial Award. (He was unable to attend, but I look forward to meeting him soon.)

Shilpa announced Dr. Battiste as the winner after speaking about our amazing Steve. She spoke without notes, so her prepared text below is an approximation of what she said. It was a beautiful, touching tribute.

The plaque (thanks to Layne, who took care of the details)


From Dr. Chitnis:

I was attending at Parkland hospital in December of 2007 when I met this young man who was admitted to our service. It was heart breaking when I had to walk into his room one day with my team and tell him and his young wife that the lesion in his brain stem appeared to be a malignant high grade glioma. Eventually his care got transferred to Dr. Maher in Neuro-oncology, however Steve and I had stuck a chord and we remained in touch through emails and phone calls and I continued to follow his cancer journey. It is unusual for doctors to become personal friends with their patients, especially when you are not involved in their long term care, however there was something quite special about Steve and Tyra that also made me reach out to them.

In spite of the grim prognosis, Steve was determined to give his life his best shot. He put himself through grueling radiation and chemotherapy, was willing to try any experimental therapies that could slow down his rapidly growing brain tumor. Most importantly he did this with a smile on his face and a sense of humor that is rarely found under such circumstances. Steve had immense faith in his GOD and a wonderful life partner who put her life on hold to care for him and together they fought this advancing menace with grit and determination. In spite of the challenges, Steve and Tyra tried to provide a semblance of normal life for their young children with unconditional love and support from Steve’s equally wonderful parents, family and friends. Steve knew that his time was limited but the way in which he lived his life in those 21 months has served as a source of inspiration for his family, friends and the community.

In his short but amazingly blessed life, Steve taught me and so many others to take each day and live and laugh and to make the most of every moment. He never stopped working and continued to work from his hospital bed at home until few days before his death. On the professional front Steve was an administrator with Children’s hospital and was responsible for pioneering the Physicians for Children initiative, or PFC, which would provide health care to under privileged children. Since then many such PFC clinics have sprung up across town. He had genuine passion for his work and compassion for others who were less fortunate.

In his short but truly inspiring life, Steve left behind a legacy for his young children who continue to deal with this tragic event in a stoic and determined manner which is unexpected of children in their age group and continue to provide strength and purpose for their mother who herself is the epitome of love, faith, strength and perseverance. My family and I wanted to honor his exemplary life and memory by creating the Stephen Damm Memorial Award for excellence and compassion in patient care in Neuro-oncology. His oncologist Dr. Maher helped select the recipient for this award and the award goes to Dr. James Battiste.

Uncle Jim, Shilpa, Tyra, Katie, Jim and Betty after the banquet (photo by Cooper)

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