June 20, 2018 | The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has established the Pamela Rakhshan Chair in Otolaryngology thanks to a $1 million gift from her father, Chris Rakhshan, in gratitude to the physician who saved her life.
UAMS will name a professor to the Rakhshan Chair at a later time.
Rakhshan, of Boulder, Colorado, was living in Arkansas in 2008 when Pamela, then 18, was diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a malignant tumor of the trachea. The rare condition occurs only 2 or 3 times per 100,000 people per year, most often in the elderly.
James Y. Suen, M.D., distinguished professor in the UAMS College of Medicine and a world-renowned head and neck cancer surgeon, operated on Pamela for more than 10 hours and continued her follow-up care. Today, Pamela is cancer free.
“I thought for sure that we had lost her,” Rakhshan said. “But Dr. Suen told me later that he took extra time, because she’s so young, and he wanted to be sure that not only the operation was successful, but that she would never have any issues. He took extra time to make sure everything was done to perfection.”
During Pamela’s follow-up visits, her father was impressed not only with Suen’s skill but with his kind, soft-spoken and compassionate manner.
“I realized then how very lucky my family and I were to have Dr. Suen save my daughter’s life, and I determined that somehow I wanted to repay that kindness,” Rakhshan said.
Rakhshan, who moved to Colorado recently, donated his Arkansas home to UAMS, and UAMS used the proceeds of that sale – nearly $1 million – to establish the Pamela Rakhshan Chair in Otolaryngology, both to celebrate Pamela and honor Suen.
“Sometimes we mistakenly measure our fortunes with what’s in our pocket,” Rakhshan said. “And at the time, when I was going through this with my daughter, I realized that my true fortunes in life were what was in front of me – my family. And there’s no greater gratitude I could have had to Dr. Suen and UAMS for bringing her back to me.”
An endowed chair is among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on a faculty member and is established with gifts of $1 million, which are invested and the spendable distributions from the endowment are used to support the educational, research and clinical activities of the chair holder. Those named to a chair are among the most highly regarded scientists, physicians and professors in their fields of expertise. The endowment will provide funding for continued research and advancements to treatments and surgeries for head and neck cancers.
“I would like to thank Chris Rakhshan for this generous donation, especially because it’s honoring his daughter,” said Suen. “This chair will be at UAMS for as long as UAMS exists, and the interest can be used year after year for research, helping us find cures for patients that have these vascular anomalies. This gift will make a huge difference and I think will save many lives in the future. We’re grateful to Chris and Pamela for that.”
“This is kind of like the eternal flame,” said John Dornhoffer, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine. “This is going to continue to support – so long as there are sick people, so long as there are diseases, so long as there’s cancer – this is going to allow us, essentially forever, to continue to research this. I think that’s a really powerful gift. For somebody who does research, for somebody who supports clinicians and researchers, this is going to allow us to do it in a way that otherwise would not be possible.”
UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; northwest Arkansas regional campus; statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Myeloma Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 2,834 students, 822 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses throughout the state, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.