Gifts from Friends

John and Joan Herlitz

Joan Herlitz’s spirit and sunny disposition can best be described by one of her favorite mottos, “Live, Love, Laugh.” She had a genuine passion for life and believed in living each and every day to its fullest. She greeted everyone with a smile and a hug. To know her was to love her. She enjoyed playing tennis, shopping, and, most of all, brightening other people’s days. Joan dedicated her life to being a wonderful mother, grandmother, friend, and wife. She had a great career as a “domestic executive,” as she liked to call herself, but was very happy to become semiretired once both of her sons, Kirk and Todd had gone off to college.

Her husband, John, had an inherent love for cars from a very young age. As early as age thirteen, he was sending car designs to Chrysler, his favorite car company. He was ecstatic when people at the design office actually sent feedback on his designs and gave him advice on the type of education that he would need to become a car designer. He kept drawing and dreamt of one day working at Chrysler.

John followed this dream and started his career at Chrysler beginning in 1964 after receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 1969, he married Joan Elizabeth Neinas.

His first goal at Chrysler was realized when one of his designs, the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, went to production. This was followed up shortly after by his design of the 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner. These are now two of the most highly regarded and sought after muscle car designs of the era.

Extremely talented, personable, and driven, John worked his way up through the ranks of the company, eventually retiring as Senior Vice President of Design for Chrysler Corporation in January 2001.

It was at about this time that Joan and John were preparing to start the next chapter of their lives together that Joan was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s own tissue and organs. Lupus can be mild or may cause serious complications. The disease did not affect Joan significantly on a daily basis, but it provided a few life-threatening episodes, the most recent of which occurred in the fall of 2004. Her treatments involved chemotherapy, hospitalization, and many types of medication. She fought this disease with everything that she had and it never beat her.

Her primary source of care had been with Dr. W. Joseph McCune, the Michael H. and Marcia S. Klein Professor of Rheumatic Diseases at the University of Michigan’s Department of Internal Medicine.Dr. McCune and his colleagues continue to research and study diseases such as lupus. Inspired by their work, John and Joan had set up a charitable fund in 2004 called the Herlitz Lupus Research Fund, which provided funding for Dr. McCune and his colleagues’ research. Joan was so excited about the potential of the fund that she even started a personal letter writing campaign all on her own to encourage friends and family to get involved. Through the generosity of John and Joan, as well as their friends and family, this fund has provided several thousands of dollars for lupus research, as well as other internal diseases.

In early 2008, after thirty-eight years of marriage, John and Joan Herlitz both passed away suddenly two months apart. Because of their passion to find a cure for lupus, Joan and John, had included the University of Michigan’s lupus program in their estate. Once realized, their sons, Kirk and Todd established the John and Joan Herlitz Endowment for Lupus Research to continue to support lupus research at the University of Michigan in order to continue the search for answers their mother had so eagerly wanted to help find.

Kirk explains, “We can only hope that the subsequent gift to U-M as a result of our parents’ premature passing will somehow provide comfort and, ultimately, a cure for Lupus sufferers. We would love to see something great happen as a result of this gift to somehow justify these circumstances. In addition to helping Lupus sufferers, we hope that this will also help to preserve our parents’ legacy and help their spirit of strength, generosity and their love of life to live on for many years to come.”

“We are very grateful to Joan and John Herlitz for creating the Joan and John Herlitz Lupus Research Fund and their generous support of lupus research at U-M,” explains Dr. Joseph McCune. “As we use their gift to intensify our work to discover the causes and cures of lupus, we also remember the privilege of getting to know Joan and John. Joan graciously faced a devastating illness that threatened to take away her mobility, enduring numerous therapies and maintaining her good humor, warmth, and the excellence of her tennis game throughout. John, a gentle and soft spoken man was a tremendous source of support for his wife. Despite his quiet demeanor, it was readily apparent that this was a decisive individual with powerful intellect and capacity for understanding complex issues. We see these attributes reflected in their children, Kirk and Todd Herlitz, who continue their parent’s support of the University of Michigan and the lupus program through the John and Joan Herlitz Endowment for Lupus Research. We share with Todd and Kirk the loss of this wonderful couple and remember them with great fondness.”

“Our Mother’s goal with her fundraising efforts was to find a cure for Lupus in her lifetime. Unfortunately, that was not possible. I am hoping that this gift to the University will help to find a cure in the lifetime of their grandchildren,” adds Todd Herlitz.

Michael H. and Marcia S. Klein Professorship in Rheumatic Diseases

Seven years ago, a diagnosis of both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in the family of Michael and Marcy Klein led them to the University of Michigan and the work of W. Joseph McCune, MD

As the Kleins learned about Dr. McCune’s research — and about the 3.6 million Americans affected by the pain, inflammation and debilitation of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus — they decided to establish a research fund in their names to advance the work being done at Michigan. The Klein Research Fund is also supporting a long-term study to determine the causes and treatment of premature heart disease in women with lupus. As they saw an increased need for lupus and other rheumatic disease research, Mr. and Mrs. Klein decided to make a new, significant gift from their family foundation and transform the research fund into a professorship bears their name.

“Their significant philanthropic commitment by the Kleins is a testament to their resolve to make a strong impact on the diagnosis, treatment and eventual cures for rheumatic diseases, especially lupus. Their gifts will make a difference for a great many patients not only in Michigan, but around the world. Most of these patients will never know the names of Michael and Marcia Klein, but their suffering will be mitigated by the medical breakthroughs made possible by their generosity.”

Arlene Licht and her Family

Arlene Licht and her family have a great fondness for the University of Michigan. It’s not just because all of her children graduated from here and three of her grandchildren are currently students. It’s due in part to the care and compassion that her family has received from two U-M Department of Internal Medicine clinicians: cardiologist Melvyn Rubenfire, MD, and nephrologist Richard Swartz, MD — vital care that allowed them to enjoy life with their husband, father, and grandfather a little longer.

Ronald Licht initially received care for his heart condition from Dr. Rubenfire at Sinai Hospital in Detroit and followed him when he moved to U-M. It was at Michigan, that he was eventually put under the care of Dr. Swartz as well. “We felt great security in the care Ronald received at U-M from each of these doctors and all of the nurses. The nephrology clinic was amazing. Anytime you called, they were available. Even when they were closed, someone would meet us there if we needed them. They made us feel like we were their only patients. Ronald’s illness was heart wrenching for our family but U-M really felt like a safety zone for us,” explains Arlene.

The cardiac care that Ronald received from Dr. Rubenfire added more than five years to his life. He was on dialysis for the last year and a half. As his condition worsened, Arlene was able to give him dialysis at home due to the training and confidence that Dr. Swartz gave her. This allowed Ronald to continue working and to spend more time with his family. It also helped their day-to-day lives feel more normal and less disrupted. In late June 2008, Ronald passed away. The Licht family is extremely grateful that he was able to stay well enough to enjoy his grandchildren as a result of his care from Drs. Rubenfire and Swartz.

To express their gratitude, Arlene and her family decided to donate to two professorships that are currently being established in the Department of Internal Medicine to honor each doctor’s exceptional career and patient care at U-M:

The Melvyn Rubenfire, MD, Professorship in Preventive Cardiology is being developed to provide ongoing financial support that will allow a U-M faculty member to focus on the development of preventive cardiology programs, clinical care, research, and education.

The Richard D. Swartz, MD, Collegiate Professorship in Nephrology is being developed to provide funding for a series of nephrology faculty members to focus on developing new methods for treating patients and shaping fellows into the outstanding clinicians of tomorrow.

Maureen McSweeney

When brainstorming ideas for her senior project at Franklin Road Christian School in Novi, MI, Maureen McSweeney’s grandmother, Genevieve McSweeney, suggested that she raise money to support Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) research. Maureen’s grandfather, Thomas McSweeney, had been diagnosed with IPF, a form of pulmonary fibrosis that involves the progressive scarring of lung tissue, six years earlier.

Maureen did some research and found out about the work being done by the Martin Edward Galvin Research Fund for IPF in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care in the Department of Internal Medicine at U-M and decided to conduct a letter writing campaign to raise funds for their work.

With the help of her grandmother, Maureen mailed out 100 letters to their friends and family to raise awareness and funds for IPF research. This effort resulted in more than $3,500 raised for the Martin Edward Galvin Research Fund for IPF. Maureen even sent each donor a handwritten thank-you note after her campaign was complete. When asked about her first foray into fundraising, she explains, “I was shocked by how generous everyone was. I did this because I really love my grandpa. It showed me what could be accomplished when you bring the power of love and the power of giving together.”