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Former Faculty Member Gives Back in Gratitude

Joanne T. Douglas, Ph.D.

Joanne T. Douglas, Ph.D. is using a beneficiary designation to give back to UAB.

Each day, Joanne T. Douglas, Ph.D. has to think carefully about what she wants to say during her day. Her words are limited by a degenerative neurological condition known as primary progressive aphasia, a language disorder that affects the ability to speak, read, write and understand what others are saying.

During a recent interview, Joanne used as many words as she could to praise the doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and express gratitude for her time working here.

Now Joanne is going beyond words of praise by giving two planned gifts in honor of physicians who made a difference in her life. The gifts will be largely funded by a beneficiary designation of her UAB TIAA-CREF retirement account.

The Reasons We Give
In March 2006, Joanne was working as an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Pathology when she was hospitalized. What followed is a complicated medical history that includes 16 surgeries over the course of 38 months.

"Those surgeries were performed at UAB by a number of very good surgeons, and there were a couple of extremely gifted nurses helping me through," Joanne says.

In May 2009, Joanne was once again hospitalized, and it became apparent she would not be able to return to her work as a lecturer and researcher in human gene therapy.

Joanne found she could no longer do the reading and writing of grants and papers necessary in her career; she could not speak with ease in front of others; and she could not get across the highly technical scientific information that was her life's work.

"Throughout the whole period of illness, many, many people in my department, from the chair to the division directors to colleagues to the administrative staff, were doing everything they possibly could to support me. They facilitated my very smooth transition to disability retirement," Joanne says.

A Gift with Purpose
When Joanne discusses her medical history, she mentions two physicians in particular. Dr. Elizabeth A. Kvale and Dr. Jennifer De Los Santos continue to impact her life.

In honor of Dr. De Los Santos, Joanne is donating funds to provide additional support to The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road Patient Assistance Fund.

The gift in honor of Dr. Kvale will provide funds for the UAB Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic in the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care in the UAB School of Medicine. In addition to the planned gifts, Joanne currently supports these funds through monthly donations.

"I want to help other people have access to the exceptional care I received, and I want to honor the two particular doctors who had been so wonderful to me. I think they are both very gifted physicians, brilliant, wise, and insightful, with a great generosity of spirit," Joanne says. "In thinking widely and creatively about ways to optimize my quality of life, they've treated me as an individual and as a whole person and I've received support and encouragement. They intuitively know the right thing to say. They have the perfect words to inspire and encourage me."

Raising Awareness
Joanne also expressed gratitude to UAB for her continued health benefits and financial security allowing her to focus on her health and well-being.

Joanne says this has allowed her to be in a position where she can advocate for primary progressive aphasia and help others by raising awareness.

Over the course of five months, Joanne wrote a first-person medical paper on strategies to adapt to early stage primary progressive aphasia, which was published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease & Other Dementias.

"My main goals were for it to be helpful both to other people with the condition and their doctors, and also to convey my appreciation to my medical team," Joanne says.

In 2012, Joanne was featured in a Forbes article in which she spoke about her need to not "drift aimlessly" in the disease, but to live in the present.

"My life is not the way I would have chosen," she tells Forbes. "But I can choose what I can make of it now."

What You Can Do
"I want to encourage other people who are faculty or employees to think about what they might be able to give back. I understand that we are very fortunate to receive the benefits we receive. I choose to give because I think that even relatively modest donations can help people facing unexpected expenditure at a time of medical need," Joanne says.

Visit the Office of Planned Giving website for more information on the types of planned gifts you and your loved ones can make to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Contact the Office of Planned Giving at (205) 996-7533 or for personalized giving information.

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to the University of Alabama at Birmingham a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

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