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Healing the wounds of war

A $4 million gift from radiologist Roger Anderson, M.D. (left), honors the life of his big brother Bill (right), who died on the battlefield at age 23. (Photos: Courtesy of Mary Jo Odegaard)

Gift endows chairs to train medics, heal PTSD

William Lewis Anderson never had the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. The combat medic died trying to save a wounded soldier on the battlefield in Italy during WWII. Now, a $4 million gift made in his honor more than seven decades later will help train today’s medics and help heal the psychological scars that haunt some veterans who return home.

The gift, which will fund two endowed chairs, comes from his younger brother, Roger Anderson, M.D., a ’52 University of Minnesota Medical School alumnus who died last year of thyroid cancer at age 86, shortly after creating the planned gift through his will.

The William L. Anderson Endowed Chair for Research and Development of Military Medical Simulation Training and Technology will support the University’s SimPORTAL, the Medical School’s interactive training center where medical students, medics, and others participate in situations brought vividly to life by virtual reality, simulation, and lifelike 3-D models.

“This gift is allowing us to create the next generation of training tools and simulations to train the next generation of providers,” says Robert Sweet, M.D., SimPORTAL’s director.

The new technologies better prepare medics for performing difficult lifesaving procedures, Sweet adds. “We want them to feel like it’s real so that they don’t freeze up the first time they have to perform those skills in combat.”

Detecting PTSD

More than 90 percent of troops wounded in action do survive, but many come home suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), intense, recurring anxiety that may include flashbacks and intrusive memories related to a traumatic combat experience.

The William L. Anderson Endowed Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Research will provide resources that help University scientists better understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent PTSD.

For example, the endowment will support research that uses an imaging technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which can diagnose PTSD with 95 percent accuracy, says Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., holder of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary Chair in Brain Sciences and director of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

MEG machines read magnetic fields of the brain and can detect hyperactivity in a PTSD patient’s temporal lobe, where memories are stored, explains Georgopoulos, a Regents Professor of Neurosciences at the U.

Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Brain Sciences Center and a research professor of cognitive sciences at the U of M, says the endowment also assures that the University will lead efforts to improve the care of PTSD patients, who often suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and nightmares.

“We can use [MEG] in treatment research as a very objective marker of the severity of a particular disorder, and we can go forward with treatments and observe the results and determine what works and what doesn’t,” Engdahl says.

Quietly improving others’ lives

Roger Anderson’s $4 million gift is one of many made by a man who sought little recognition for his philanthropy, which also included a $2 million donation to the University’s ROTC program as well as gifts to the Weisman Art Museum.

Anderson spent more than 40 years as a respected radiologist, including as a staff member at Deaconess Hospital and Abbott Northwestern Hospital and as a partner with Consulting Radiologists. A stalwart resident of southeast Minneapolis, he was dedicated to the community surrounding the University.

Anderson’s cousin Mary Jo Odegaard says she wasn’t surprised by his generosity. She describes him as a humble, funny, and sweet lifelong bachelor who idolized his big brother and mourned his death for the rest of his own life.

“He gave so there was better art available, so there were better medical options available,” she says. “He wanted a better quality of life for others.”

By Tim Sturrock

To support this work, please contact Catherine McGlinch at 612-626-5456 or mcgra022@umn.edu.

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