Home » Major Gift Awarded to Texas Children’s Cancer Center for Research
September 16, 2009 – Texas Children’s Hospital
By Sandra Bretting
In the mid-1970s, when young Lee Edward Ellis of Houston contracted Burkitt lymphoma—a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma—treatment options were limited. Today, thirty years later, the disease has more than an 80 percent survival rate, thanks largely to herculean efforts by researchers and physicians.
A recent $1 million donation to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston from the estate of Norma Jean Wiley hopes to improve those odds even more.
Jean Wiley, as she preferred to be called, passed away in May, but never forgot the care a young relative received at Texas Children’s before his death in 1977. Touched by the people she met while visiting young Lee Ellis, she decided to remember the hospital in her will.
“Jean was a very bottom-line type of person and she wasn’t easily impressed,” said Sam Gainer, the estate’s independent executor and a family friend. “For her to be so taken with what she saw, it had to be extraordinary.”
Mrs. Wiley’s generous gift will be used to support programs and fund research related to leukemia and certain blood disorders.
“Texas Children’s has been at the forefront of pediatric cancer research and treatment, but this gift will allow us to do even more,” said David Poplack, M.D., director of Texas Children’s Cancer Center. “There are cutting edge studies taking place here that will change the way we treat these diseases, giving hope to even more parents and children.”
“If even one parent can be spared the anguish of losing a child, it will be wonderful,” said Janie Ellis, Lee’s mother. “I’m so thrilled the gift will be used to fund cancer research. In fact, October marks the thirty-second anniversary of my son’s passing, so this gift is particularly meaningful.”
Married for many years to Dave Wiley, founder of industrial parts supplier Wilco Supply of Houston, Jean Wiley enjoyed serving as honorary “aunt” to Lee Ellis. She had been one of the last surviving relatives of Janie and Jim Ellis.
“We have a very small family and there’s no doubt she loved Lee,” Janie Ellis said. “But, I was still overwhelmed by this gift and her generosity.”
Texas Children’s Hospital has been ranked the number one children’s hospital for pediatric cancer care in Texas this year and the fourth best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. That publication even placed the hospital on its honor roll this year for placing in the top 10 of all subspecialties profiled.
“No matter what—first and foremost—it’s about treating the children,” said Dr. Poplack. “And gifts like this allow us to care for even more children in incredibly innovative ways.”
Pictured: Jim and Janie Ellis; Dr. David Poplack; Barbara Hart, sister of Mrs. Ellis; and Norma and Sam Gainer, independent executor of the estate