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Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

On-target cancer treatments

Radiation oncologist Kathryn Dusenbery, M.D., and medical physics resident Brian Hundertmark, Ph.D., discuss the best course of action for a patient. (Photo: Scott Streble)

A grateful patient supports technical training in radiology

Although Bob Johnson calls himself a “Swede from the East Side of St. Paul,” with a little prodding, you’ll learn that he carries many other titles as well: lawyer, former Minnesota state legislator, war veteran, proud father of six, cancer survivor.

And one thing becomes clear: He does not shy away from challenges — he seeks them out. “I lied to get into the Navy in September of 1941,” says Johnson, who was 17 years old at the time. When World War II started, he was in the Navy ROTC at the University of Minnesota and went on to serve two years on a naval destroyer in the South Pacific.

After returning to Minnesota, Johnson graduated from the University’s Law School and practiced law for more than 50 years, in addition to representing the Highland Park area of St. Paul, Minn., as a state legislator for 12 years.

Yet to come was his biggest challenge. In the late 1990s, Johnson was diagnosed with prostate cancer and sought treatment at the University. Following months of radiation while under the care of Kathryn Dusenbery, M.D., Johnson made a full recovery.

“She did a marvelous job and restored my confidence,” Johnson says of Dusenbery. In the years that followed, he has made annual financial contributions and an estate gift to support her work. “She really took great care of me. You couldn’t help but support her,” he says.

Where the physicists come in  

Dusenbery, an associate professor and head of the University’s Department of Therapeutic Radiology- Radiation Oncology, specializes in pediatric and gynecological tumors but also works on eradicating prostate tumors.

She says Johnson’s philanthropic support has helped to build one of the nation’s first residency programs for medical physicists and transformed the way the University trains the experts who deliver radiation treatments for cancer.

“Today’s radiation machines are very complicated. It takes trained medical physicists to make sure the equipment is running correctly and that the doses desired are actually delivered,” Dusenbery explains.

“Our physicists leave this institution very well trained. Because of their skills, the treatment given under their supervision is as accurate and safe as it can be,” she says.

Robert and Betty Johnson. (Submitted photo)

Importance of philanthropy

“Mr. Johnson’s gifts along the way have helped a lot,” Dusenbery says. “Bob had a lifelong interest in education, as did his late wife, Betty. I’m pleased that these gifts have been used for education.”

In addition to annual gifts, Johnson created a charitable lead trust; half supports Dusenbery’s work, and half supports the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. The trust, which contributes to the University annually, also provides Johnson with financial and tax benefits.

“I’m a firm believer that if somebody does something for me, I should do something for them,” says Johnson. “There are a lot of people who need help, and this was a beautiful way to do it.”

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