It’s emotional, yet rewarding. When Toni Weeks reaches out to pancreatic cancer patients at Unity Point Trinity in Rock Island, and presents them with a $500 gift card, the responses are often overwhelming.
A social worker in the oncology department, Weeks is the one who most often sees firsthand the outreach of the Ohl Strong Foundation, and the Dr. Brent Ohl Strong Pancreatic Cancer Support Endowment through the UnityPoint Health® – Trinity Health Foundation.
“I meet with the patients in person if possible, to talk to them about their needs,” said Weeks, “or I call them on the phone if they’re not receiving treatment here.
“It’s wonderful to be able to touch base with them and offer assistance, but when I talk to them about the Ohl Foundation, and present them with that informational packet and gift card, they are usually overwhelmed with gratitude.
“This is a very scary and difficult time for them, and a time when they’re not getting a lot of good news. It’s just helpful for them to know that there is help available, but also it’s like a little ray of sunshine that someone is thinking of them, has been there, and wants to try and help. It means a lot.
“The gift card is a very pleasant surprise, and totally unexpected,” she continued. “They are just amazed at the generosity of the Ohl Foundation.”
The passion behind that generosity is provided by Ohl’s wife, Peggy, who started the foundation to not only secure her husband’s legacy, but to spread awareness of the disease that took his life five years ago.
Dr. Brent Ohl, a 1986 North Scott graduate and Eldridge resident, was a popular anesthesiologist at Unity Point Trinity. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 48, and died less than five months later.
“You have to have something to be passionate about, and even though I didn’t plan it this way, this is mine,” said Peggy. “I absolutely still have the passion to create awareness of this dreaded disease.
“It just takes time to get this message out. There are a million causes out there, and everybody has something they have a cause for. This is mine. The gift cards are small thing when you consider what these patients go through, but I just really believe in giving this $500 gift card to these people. It makes a little tiny difference in their world.”
Again, Weeks sees that firsthand.
“When I see them, the patients are usually going through a very difficult time,” she said, “especially if they are just starting treatment, or have been fairly newly diagnosed. They haven’t had a lot of good news in the previous weeks when they are getting all the tests and diagnostic imaging done, so this helps just a little.
“It’s a very rewarding part of my job. I’m glad that I can be the messenger for what Peggy’s trying to do in so many of these situations. She’s obviously the woman behind this. It’s an honor for me to be the messenger, because it really is wonderful for them.”
Since its inception, Ohl Strong has provided financial support to more than 65 pancreatic cancer patients within a 70-mile radius of the Quad Cities, including 30 in the past year.
Initially, the gift cards were only for patients who received treatment at Trinity, but for the past year or so they’ve been provided to patients no matter where they get treatment, as long as they reside within a 70-mile radius of the Quad Cities.
“Peggy is doing a wonderful job of trying to get the word out,” said Weeks. “She very much wants it to be patients in the Quad City area, whether they are getting treatment with us, Genesis or Iowa City. She wants to make sure we try and reach them.
“As much as we can, we want to get the word out so patients know this assistance is available, that’s the main point, and to also carry on the memory of Dr. Ohl.”
To make that happen, Ohl Strong holds an annual fundraiser each fall, and this year’s event is a tailgating party for Iowa’s football game at Wisconsin on Saturday, Oct. 30. It will be held at Traditions in Eldridge, and doors open at 10:30 a.m.
“All the money from the event goes either to purchase the gift cards, or into the endowment at Trinity,” said Ohl. “We have about $70,000 in the endowment, which we can’t touch, and we use only the interest to purchase the gift cards.”
Ohl knows there are pancreatic cancer patients that get overlooked, and she’s determined to do her best to reach them.
“It just takes time to get the word out,” she said. “You have to have somebody that can indentify those patients, and we’re doing our best. I know there are patients that get missed, which I hate.”
Most of the referrals come through Trinity Health Foundation, and Weeks. With Genesis Health Systems now an official Ohl Strong sponsor, Ohl is hoping that will make it easier to reach patients who seek treatment there.
“Getting Genesis on board is huge,” she said, “and hopefully that will allow us to reach more people. It’s just one more small step, but I am determined to continue to make people aware of this disease.”