Supporting Special Care Nursery –
Dee and Jerry Wisler
Seventeen years have passed, yet the memories are still fresh.
When Damarys (Dee) and Jerry Wisler visited Abington Memorial Hospital last July, they brought with them their 17-year-old son. It was Michael’s return to the Andrew Tesauro Special Care Nursery (SCN) where he had spent the first six weeks of his life.
As moving as that reunion was, the Wislers’ story resonates even deeper.
Michael and his twin brother, Mathew, were born prematurely at Abington in August of 1996. Earlier, though – at 25 weeks – Dee learned that Mathew suffered from a Vein of
Galen aneurysm, a rare malformation at the base of his brain.
Mathew had no chance of surviving. However, if he were to fail too early before birth, his twin brother would fail as well. For Michael to live, Mathew also had to survive as long as possible.
Dee was hospitalized at Abington, where she received around-the-clock care until the boys were delivered just shy of 31 weeks. Mathew, as expected, survived for less than two hours – but he had stayed alive long enough to save the life of his brother.
Michael, only two pounds, 10 ounces at birth, remained in the special care nursery for six more weeks until he finally came home at a comparatively robust four pounds, one ounce.
Today Michael is a healthy high-school junior, a fact that was on poignant display when he returned with his parents in July to visit Abington’s special care nursery.
“It was a very emotional visit,” says his father. “Michael was able to spend time with some of the very same people – physicians and nurses – who took care of him when he was born. Even the nurse who cared for Mathew in his final hours was there, and remembered us, and spoke with us. It was a powerful visit.”
Following their visit, Jerry and Dee decided to make a major gift in support of Abington’s special care nursery.
“We were really quite amazed at the progress made in keeping premature babies alive and healthy,” says Jerry. “To see what they’re able to do now, both through increased technology and increased training, was very gratifying. We wanted to be a part of that.”
Jerry and Dee have established the Michael and Mathew Wisler Fund for Excellence in Neonatology to support medical education opportunities and equipment.
“As new advances continue to be made,” says Jerry, “it made a lot of sense to us to provide an ongoing source of funding for education and training.”
In addition, the Wislers have made a major gift to enable the SCN to purchase a Giraffe Omnibed Incubator, a technologically advanced microenvironment to help newborns thrive. Notes Jerry, “These incubators are a significant advance over where the technology was just a few years ago, let alone where it was 17 years ago, when
Michael was in the NICU.”
Jerry and Dee both have backgrounds in the pharmaceutical industry, and both worked at Merck, where they met in the 1980s. They married in 1989, and Dee left Merck to care for their daughter, Nicole, who was born in 1991. Today Nicole is an American University graduate teaching documentary film-making to students in India, and young Michael is a budding businessman who enjoys golf.
After some 20 years at Merck, Jerry left in 2003 to start his own pharmaceutical company, Aegerion, and grew it to become a public company. He left Aegerion in 2008 to form another pharmaceutical company, Omthera, which he sold this year to Astra Zeneca. The proceeds from that sale enabled the Wislers to make their gift to Abington.
“Now that we are in a financial position,” says Jerry, “we want to help others do as well as Michael. We feel very blessed that Michael not only survived, but has thrived. We attribute a lot of that to Abington.”
In addition to Abington Health, the Wislers support a range of health-related causes with personal significance. These include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Autism research and Shepherd’s Hope, an organization in the Orlando area that provides free healthcare to those unable to afford it.
“We have much to be grateful for,” says Dee, “and our focus is to give back and help others.”
Their gift to Abington does exactly that.
When the Wislers visited Abington this summer, they learned first-hand what a profound impact they might have through their philanthropy.
Joining them on their tour were Ara Moomjian, M.D., chief of the Neonatology Division and the physician who cared for both boys when they were at Abington; Gerard M. Cleary, D.O., medical director of the SCN; Marcia Quarles, R.N., SCN team coordinator; and Elizabeth Noll, R.N., SCN nurse manager. Another dozen special care nurses were on hand during the visit, including Karen Whitehead, R.N., who shared with the family her memories of caring for Mathew during his few hours those many years ago.
“For six weeks,” Jerry recalls, “Abington’s physicians and nurses made the hospital feel like a home away from home for us. They gave us hope about how things were progressing with Michael, and shared our joy at every step forward. They kept us well educated, optimistic, and confident. All of the things we really needed, they provided on a daily basis.”
“Bringing Michael back to visit was amazing,” says Dee. “I don’t think he fully realized how small these babies are. How frail. For him to see them, to be right there with them and know he was one of them – that made a huge difference.”
Adds Jerry, “We learned a lot about changes over the years in techniques and technology, and the constantly improving care you get through education and training. We’re pleased to be in a position to help with that, so that others can be provided the same quality of care that Michael and Mathew received.”
Dee agrees. “We have been fortunate in our lives, and this is a way for us to give back and to remember how Abington treated us with such dignity. It is something I will never forget.”