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Determined to lessen the burden of schizophrenia

Agnes and a young Ana Belle Johnson, long before her schizophrenia diagnosis (Photo courtesy of Dorothy Sayers, R.N.) Agnes Johnson spent decades worrying about her daughter, Ana Belle, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 16. As Johnson aged, she decided to set up a fund to ensure that Ana Belle would always be cared for; in the event of Ana Belle’s death, her mother wanted the money to go to the University of Minnesota, where it could support schizophrenia research. When Ana Belle died two years ago, Johnson’s careful planning resulted in a generous gift to the U.

“My aunt Agnes always wanted Ana Belle to have a better life, a more abundant life, but didn’t know how to give it to her,” says Dorothy Sayers, R.N., who was named trustee of the fund, which she dubbed the Ana Belle Johnson Abundant Life Fund (John 10:10). “That’s why she was so determined that this money be used for schizophrenia research.”

The $200,000 gift from Agnes Johnson’s trust (with an additional small sum still to come) will bolster a robust research program that has recently resulted in some critical breakthroughs in diagnosing, treating, and even preventing schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia is an illness of substantial burden to both the person and the family,” says S. Charles Schulz, M.D., head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University. “The public doesn’t grasp the implications of it, and they stigmatize it. Gifts like this help move us one step closer to finding solutions for the people who struggle with this disease throughout their lives.”

He points to the success of two programs as examples: the University’s First Episode program, which works with individuals who have just experienced their first psychotic episode, and the AHEAD (Adolescents and Young Adults at High Risk Due to Emotional and Academic Difficulties) Clinic, which focuses on intervening before the first episode.

The Johnson fund, he says, could lead to better ways to help people who have schizophrenia manage their long-term health, an important goal, because these individuals suffer disproportionately from serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart and lung disease.

“My aunt earnestly hoped for a cure, for answers beyond drugs to help others with this difficult mental illness,” says Sayers, “and I feel privileged to pass on her legacy of love and hope to families dealing with schizophrenia.”

By Barbara Knox

To learn more or to support schizophrenia research at the University of Minnesota, contact Catherine McGlinch at mcgra022@umn.edu or 612-626-5456.

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