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Larysa Sholom

Gift of life

January 2012

by Natalie Gutierrez

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you
have lived, this is to have succeeded."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Larysa Sholom was 16 when she arrived in the United States from the Ukraine as an exchange student. With great trepidation but courage, she left her family behind to pursue an education and expand her horizons. Years later, her love for the U.S. often brought her back to visit. But in 2008, while vacationing in San Antonio, a debilitating disease kept her from returning to her homeland.

At 21 years old, Sholom was diagnosed with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis, a rare lung disease that left her gasping for air. The disease, which affects mostly women, is characterized by the overgrowth of abnormal cells that destroy lung tissue. The cause of the disease is not yet understood and no cure exists. Sholom expected she had only one year to live.

With a fighting spirit, Sholom continued to pursue her dreams in America and landed a job as a supply and trading associate at NuStar Energy LP in San Antonio, one of the largest asphalt refiners and marketers in the U.S. and the second largest independent liquids terminal operator in the nation.

When NuStar Board Chairman Bill Greehey, who is fiercely loyal to his community and employees, learned of Sholomís plight, he quickly referred her to the UT Health Science Center and the physicians of UT Medicine San Antonio. Greehey, a longtime and deeply generous supporter of the Health Science Center, said he was confident UT Medicine physicians could help her. NuStarís CEO, Curt Anastasio, agreed and helped facilitate the referral.
Bill Greehey,  William L. Henrich, M.D. and Charles Butt
(Left to right) Bill Greehey, NuStar Board Chairman, and William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, UT Health Science Center president, congratulate Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of the H-E-B Grocery Company, on the establishment of the Charles Butt and H-E-B Excellence Fund for the Future of Health.

"We are fortunate to have the UT Health Science Center in our community as it is recognized as one of the top health science centers in the nation," Greehey said. "The lifesaving and life-changing work they do for the citizens of San Antonio and South Texas is unmatched. They are saving the lives of people like Larysa every day through the groundbreaking research they conduct, the cutting-edge procedures they perform, and the special care they deliver."

Lifesaving lung transplant

On May 3, 2011, UT Medicine physician Scott B. Johnson, M.D., and his team, in a six-hour operation, performed a double-lung transplant on Sholom. Dr. Johnson is associate professor, head of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery and surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program of The University Transplant Center, a partnership of University Health System and the UT Health Science Center. Today Sholom is recovering and looking forward to fulfilling the dreams she brought with her to the U.S.


President Henrich (center) introduces patients Larysa Sholom and Dave Ashwin to the audience at the fifth annual Presidentís Gala held this past fall in San Antonio.
President Henrich (center) introduces patients Larysa Sholom and Dave Ashwin to the audience at the fifth annual Presidentís Gala held this past fall in San Antonio.

Click here to view the video

"Itís a nice thing that thereís a future. It wasnít there before," Sholom said. "Now there are so many possibilities. I am happy and healthy and Iím extremely grateful for that. This is the gift of life."

Patients share their stories at Presidentís Gala

Sholom was one of two patients featured in a video presentation at the UT Health Science Centerís fifth annual Presidentís Gala held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Sept. 17. The other was Dave Ashwin, husband of Kathy Ashwin, director of the H-E-B Tournament of Champions. Ashwin was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. Jay Pal, M.D., Ph.D., a UT Medicine San Antonio surgeon and assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery, performed his operation. Ashwin received follow-up treatment at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at the UT Health Science Center.

"The Health Science Center has given me life," Ashwin said. "I have hope. Iím playing golf. Iím taking trips. Iím feeling wonderful. Golly, itís just so good!"

Their stories of survival were heard by more than 1,300 community and academic leaders who attended the gala. Among the guests was Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of the H-E-B Grocery Company, a longtime member of the Health Science Centerís Development Board, and the galaís honoree.

$500,000 establishes Charles Butt and H-E-B Excellence Fund

William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, UT Health Science Center president, took to the stage. "These miracles would not be possible without education, without science and without the intrepid human spirit." Then he made a major announcement - the gala raised more than $500,000 to establish the Charles Butt and H-E-B Excellence Fund for the Future of Health.

Dr. Henrich saluted Charles Butt for his humility and commitment to enhancing his community.

"Where would we be without the enormous contributions of time, talent and resources given by Charles and the H-E-B partners across our state? Each one of us has benefited in some way from their generosity," he said.

Craig Boyan, president and chief operating officer of H-E-B, addressed the audience. "Education and health care are two of the major needs in the state and they are our top two priorities. This is why we are working with the Health Science Center to turn the tide in Texas and why we have donated $15 million to the Health Science Center. Dr. Henrich, we are proud of what you and your colleagues at the Health Science Center are doing. On behalf of our 76,000 employees, Charles Butt and our senior leadership team, we want you to know how much we appreciate what you are doing for the state of Texas."

The Charles Butt and H-E-B Excellence Fund for the Future of Health will support all aspects of the universityís programs and missions of education, research, clinical care and community service. It will focus on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest students and faculty and on the translation of scientific discoveries into new therapies to treat patients and benefit the community.

Rosanne Fohn contributed to this story.

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