Aurora caregivers break fundraising record with 2016 Aurora Partnership Campaign


Aurora caregivers take a moment to celebrate their charitable contributions to the community.

Did you know that every October and November, Aurora caregivers come together for an annual charitable giving campaign that’s among the largest in the state?

It’s called the Aurora Partnership Campaign. Founded in 2000 by the Aurora Health Care Foundation, caregivers use this service to facilitate their charitable giving.

But here’s what our amazing caregivers did in 2016.

In just two months, 11,770 Aurora caregivers broke the campaign’s fundraising record, raising over $4 million overall, with over $2 million earmarked toward Aurora Health Care funds that help provide vital access to care and support groundbreaking research.

Making a difference to people and communities

From local animal shelters and free clinics, to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, to our own Abuse Response Services, Aurora caregivers give through APC to help the neediest among us get the care they need, right where they are.

“We make it easy for our caregivers to help because we know how much they want to help,” says Patrick Rath, senior vice president, Aurora Health Care Foundation. “They know that every little bit makes a big difference.”

So during the campaign, participating caregivers can choose how they give, whether with a single donation or through payroll deduction for as little as a dollar a pay period.

apc-logoHelping those who need it most

“Our caregivers work so hard, day in and day out, while still recognizing that there are critical gaps out there – and that they can help fill them,” Patrick continues.

“We simply couldn’t be more proud of our Aurora caregivers.”


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Nearly strangers, now connected for life: Why Judy gave Jeff a kidney

Judy and Jeff, right after their surgeries at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Jeff Eckrich was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 35. As a result, his doctors knew they needed to keep an eye on his kidney function as he aged. And in 2013, Jeff’s doctors didn’t like what they were seeing.

“I went to see a nephrologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, and she said I was going to need a transplant or dialysis,” Jeff explains.

At first, Jeff thought a close family friend was going to be his donor. But after going through the thorough testing process, that donor didn’t work out. However, Jeff soon found it in a place he truly least expected it: his dental office and the receptionist, Judy Sommerfeld.

“When I heard him say his family friend didn’t work out, I told Jeff, ‘Look, I’m serious, I want to help. I want to get tested,’” Judy says.

So over the next few months, Judy, who was an acquaintance Jeff only saw about twice a year, and her husband Jim, who had never met Jeff at all, went through all the testing to see if they could help save Jeff’s life. It turned out, Judy could.

“There are seven categories they look at, and I matched five of them. We were considered highly compatible, especially considering we weren’t related or anything,” Judy says.

And so in November of 2015, Judy donated her kidney to Jeff and they both underwent surgery at Aurora St. Luke’s. Only then would they realize how great of a match
it really was.

“The surgeon who actually harvested the kidney came in and told my wife, ‘Jeff got a pink Cadillac. That organ was absolutely superlative,’” Jeff explains.

Judy says the team at Aurora St. Luke’s was top-notch, “They were all so compassionate, I felt like I was part of their family. They treated me like I was a queen.”

Judy and Jeff now. They barely knew each other at the time of the transplant, they now say theyre like family.

Judy and Jeff now. They barely knew each other at the time of the transplant, they now say they’re like family.

As far as Jeff is concerned, she kind of is: A queen who had a pink Cadillac of kidneys, anyway. And she was willing to give it away to an almost perfect stranger. “There really are angels walking among us. It’s my job now to take care of her gift and keep this Cadillac running on all eight cylinders.”

“I just feel such joy because God blessed me with such good physical health, so I could be a blessing to someone else. I never thought I’d do something like this,” Judy shares. “But then again, I never knew I could.”

Each day in the United States, 22 people die waiting for a transplant because of the shortage of organ donors. Your support to the Living Donor Transplant program will help Aurora create more awareness and develop support groups for donors and recipients.

“The best part about my job is seeing outcomes like Jeff and Judy’s. Becoming a living donor is a completely altruistic thing to do, but the result can have an impact on so many lives,” says Ajay Sahajpal, MD, medical director of the abdominal transplant program.

To learn more about the Living Donor Transplant program or to make a gift, contact Michelle Schuerman at

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Get INSPIRED to give!

cover-photoThe Winter 2017 issue of Aurora Health Care Foundation’s Inspire magazine is arriving in mailboxes all over southeast Wisconsin! This issue celebrates many gifts, big and small. And it doesn’t get much bigger than giving someone a kidney! You can read about why Judy gave Jeff a kidney, and you can also support Aurora’s Living Donor Transplant program that’s saving lives every day!

Other stories that will INSPIRE you in this issue:

  • The When Minutes Matter campaign has taken important steps to improve survival rates from cardiac arrest in Ozaukee and Sheboygan counties. Learn about the key tools of the campaign that are enabling people to save lives.
  • An innovative heart procedure that was pioneered at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center just celebrated a major milestone.
  • A legacy of education “lives on” at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. Read how a physician’s love for learning is helping others, decades after his passing.
  • The Renew, Restore, Rebuild campaign will create more resources for behavioral health patients in Milwaukee County and the surrounding area.

CLICK HERE to read this issue online.

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Crystal Ball event raises over $90,000 for integrative medicine programs

Thank you to sponsors and attendees of the 14th annual Crystal Ball event in Burlington. They helped raise over $90,000 to fund Aurora Cancer Care integrative medicine programs at Aurora Health Center-Southern Lakes. Because of their generosity, more people will have access to integrative therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture, which will help them relax, heal and rejuvenate.

The event was held on Saturday, February 4 at Veterans Terrace at Echo Park. At the event, Paul Webber MD, a family physician at Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington, was honored as the Honorary Chairperson. The Wanasek Family received the Community Leadership award for their many civic contributions and service to the Burlington Community.

CLICK HERE to see more pictures from the event.

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Junior League of Milwaukee commits $100,000 to help pregnant women facing domestic violence

An Aurora Health Care program designed to help pregnant women experiencing domestic violence is gaining new strength, thanks to the Junior League of Milwaukee!

As a part of its 100th-anniversary celebration, the Junior League selected the jlmilw100year1
Safe Home 
Environment program as its Centennial Anniversary Community Partner, and committed $100,000 plus volunteer time to support the initiative. This collaboration will enhance Aurora Health Care’s Abuse Response program, Safe Mom Safe Baby: an evidence-based, collaborative care model that combines nurse case management, prenatal and perinatal care, and advocacy services to enhance the health and safety of abused pregnant women.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence is a significant risk for pregnant women and their babies. Abused pregnant women are 40% more likely to deliver a pre-term or low birth weight infant requiring extended care in the hospital. Each year, Aurora’s Safe Mom Safe Baby program helps hundreds of pregnant women who live in an abusive environment.

“We are grateful for this collaboration with the Junior League of Milwaukee and look forward to strengthening our commitment to the health and well-being of women in our community,” said Mark Huber, Sr. Vice President at Aurora Health Care.

The Safe Home Environment program will provide safe housing for women and their infants as they transition to the next chapter in their family’s life. In addition, moms will be able to access comprehensive life skills programs from Aurora Family Service,  domestic violence prevention, and more services. Not only will the Safe Home Environment program make a difference in so many mothers’ lives, but it will strengthen the lives of their children, family members and all those around them!

Join this life-changing effort and make a gift to support Aurora’s Safe Mom Safe Baby program.

To learn more about Aurora’s Abuse Response Services, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about the Junior League of Milwaukee, CLICK HERE. 

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Give cancer patients like Cheryl the “best gift possible”

Cheryl (in white) with her three kids in October 2013. She says her kids are the “number one reason” she keeps fighting.

Cheryl (in white) with her three kids in October 2013. She says her kids are the “number one reason” she keeps fighting.

It was January 2013 and Cheryl had been feeling pain that felt like gas pain that wouldn’t go away. After about a month, her daughter convinced her to go to the doctor. The walk-in clinic physician sent her to the Emergency Department at Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington.

That was on a Monday, and by Thursday doctors were performing surgery to remove part of her colon. Cheryl had colon cancer. But the bad news wasn’t finished. More testing revealed the cancer had also spread to her liver, and it ended up too widespread for doctors to remove it. It’s been a pretty rough few years, but Cheryl says her oncologist, Syed Haider, MD and the staff at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic in Burlington have made all the difference.

“I’m so glad he’s my oncologist. He always talks to me honestly, but never lets me get down. And the staff got to know me and all my family and friends that came to treatments with me. I never felt like I was just another patient, it was so comforting,” Cheryl explains.

Even now, in 2017, the cancer in her liver is still there; Cheryl says she’s not cancer free but “cancer stable.” She takes oral chemotherapy treatment, but has returned to work. She knows her battle isn’t over, but she’s come such a long way from the low of 97 pounds and loss of hair during the intense days of her treatment.

And because her treatment has been going on for several years, Cheryl has experienced the transition of care from the clinic in Burlington to the new Aurora Health Center – Southern Lakes. She says the expanded space and additional bays for treatment have made the experience much more pleasant for patients. She looks forward to seeing it in the summer when the healing garden is in full bloom. She is incredibly grateful for the donors who are sending a message to her and the many others who will need it, that they matter.

“Someone you know will be impacted by this disease. If you can make their fight that much more comfortable and safe… well you’ve given them the best gift possible,” she says.

crystal-ball-graphics_2017_revAnd you can do that for cancer patients in western Racine and Walworth counties by attending this year’s Crystal Ball on February 4. Proceeds from the event will enhance the cancer programs offered at the new Aurora Health Care – Southern Lakes. To purchase a ticket or learn more, CLICK HERE.

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You can help support ‘Next Generation Medicine’ like TAVR

When you think of Aurora Health Care and Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, you quickly think of its world-class care, including its renowned cardiovascular services. People come to Aurora from around the world to receive their heart care right here at Aurora.

On Dec. 8, Aurora St. Luke’s reached a major milestone that few heart centers in the nation have achieved: its 1,000th transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure.


Members of the Aurora St. Luke’s TAVR team, including Dr. Tanvir Bajwa, right.

On an average week, the Milwaukee-based hospital performs eight to 10 TAVR procedures, during which doctors feed a new aortic valve to the heart through an artery. This less invasive approach to valve replacement has been shown to reduce length of stay in the hospital, allowing recipients to get back to their routines within days.

The procedure, which aids patients suffering from a narrowing of their aortic valve called stenosis, was performed by Drs. Daniel O’Hair and Tanvir Bajwa.


Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Daniel O’ Hair.

“The most exciting part of translational research is to watch it happen,” said Randall Lambrecht, PhD, president of Aurora Research Institute. “Drs. Bajwa and O’Hair are two of the most talented surgical cardiologists pioneering this investigative technique to a state-of-the-art clinical innovation. Expert heart care physicians like this is why Aurora St. Luke’s is where ‘Next Generation Medicine’ lives.”

The Aurora Health Care Foundation is proud to help make next-generation medicine like TAVR accessible to everyone by supporting Aurora’s cardiovascular services programs.

You can help, too! To learn more, contact Rhonda Plotkin at 414-649-6793, email, or CLICK HERE to make your gift online.

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