Donors’ personal struggles fuel generous gifts to research
The Dayton and Hegman families understand that living with diabetes is a constant struggle. Edward “Ned” Dayton and his wife, Sherry Ann, have helped their son Michael manage his type 1 diabetes since his childhood. He is now 43. And Jackie Hegman and her husband, Mark, have contended with her type 2 diabetes for more than 20 years.
The Daytons and Hegmans also understand that when you’re in a tough spot, you need powerful allies. That’s why the Edward Dayton Family Fund and the Hegman Family Foundation recently contributed $150,000 each to the immunology initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Schulze Diabetes Institute (SDI). The initiative aims to develop a widely available cure for diabetes.
“In the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen polio eradicated and, hopefully, we can see the same for diabetes,” says Ned Dayton, who had polio as a child.
Advancing a cure
In people with type 1 diabetes, islet cells — the makers of insulin in the pancreas — are destroyed. One treatment option is pancreatic islet transplantation, in which cells are taken from a donor pancreas and transferred into the person with diabetes. Once implanted, the new islets begin to make and release insulin.
Islet transplants are already capable of curing diabetes. In fact, the SDI has been curing diabetes in people who have hypoglycemia unawareness (a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes) in clinical trials since 2000. For those people, the transplant benefits outweigh the risks of immunosuppression drugs they must take to protect transplanted islets from rejection.
But that’s not true for many others with type 1 diabetes. For them, the toxic side effects of immunosuppression drugs are not worth the risk of an islet transplant — so the procedure is not widely used. The SDI immunology initiative’s goal is to reduce these side effects, thereby making islet transplantation available to vastly more people with diabetes.
“I think the U is doing a fabulous job — it’s one of the top research institutions,” Dayton says. “The work that they’ve done with transplants is simply extraordinary.”
Spreading the word
Dayton’s earlier careers were in retail and real estate. Now he focuses on supporting philanthropic causes through his family foundation. Dayton also is a member of the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Diabetes Development Advisory Committee, whose members serve as ambassadors to help further diabetes fundraising efforts at the University of Minnesota.
Hegman focuses on philanthropy after retiring as the owner of a walk-in cooler and freezer manufacturing business. In addition to diabetes research, his family foundation supports a variety of causes, including scholarship funds for students at the University of Minnesota, where Mark went to college, and at Purdue University, which Jackie attended.
“We want to give to causes that make a difference in people’s lives,” Mark Hegman says.
The Hegmans’ generosity is inspired, in part, by Mark’s father, Clyde Hegman. As head of the Minnesota Masons in the 1950s, he spearheaded fundraising to build the Masonic Memorial Hospital on the University of Minnesota campus. Today, the building serves as home to the Masonic Cancer Clinic.
The Hegmans’ support for the SDI’s type 1 diabetes research also stems from their experience dealing with Jackie’s type 2 diabetes. While the origins of the two diabetes types differ, their effects are similar — debilitating, sometimes painful, and difficult to manage. “It’s not easy living with diabetes,” Jackie Hegman says. “We know that, and we want to help.”
Likewise, the Daytons’ support for the institute is rooted in personal experience coping with diabetes. They were also inspired by their friends Tom and Meredith Olson, who are longtime supporters of diabetes research at the University, and by their deep respect for Bernhard Hering, M.D., the SDI’s scientific director, and his team of investigators.
“I think people should be excited about the research going on at the University,” Ned Dayton says. “They’re making great progress.”
By Mary Vitcenda