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Vol. LXIII, No. 25
December 9, 2011
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Former NIH Director
Healy Remembered as Leader, Friend, Visionary

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) greets Healy’s daughter Marie McGrath Loop as Healy’s husband Dr. Floyd Loop and daughter Bartlett Anne Healy Russell look on.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) greets Healy’s daughter Marie McGrath Loop as Healy’s husband Dr. Floyd Loop and daughter Bartlett Anne Healy Russell look on.

On Nov. 18, family members, colleagues and friends of Dr. Bernadine Healy gathered to share memories of the 13th NIH director, who died of brain cancer on Aug. 6. Speakers remembered Healy for her ambitious vision, her personal qualities and her professional accomplishments, particularly in women’s health.

The tribute event, said current NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, was an opportunity to “express our gratitude to this wonderful woman for what she has done for NIH and for the world.” Healy had pursued Collins aggressively to come to NIH and head its nascent Human Genome Project, not accepting his multiple refusals to take on the role.

Healy’s doggedness in the face of resistance also drove her landmark Women’s Health Initiative. In a video tribute, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) recalled working with her Senate colleagues to navigate the political roadblocks the initiative faced, at Healy’s request. “She was a pioneer and a game changer,” Mikulski said.

Avery Comarow of U.S. News & World Report edited Healy’s articles and said she appreciated the help.
Avery Comarow of U.S. News & World Report edited Healy’s articles and said she appreciated the help.

Several speakers mentioned the profound and long-lasting impacts Healy’s Women’s Health Initiative had in many areas of women’s health, such as breast cancer and heart disease.

Dr. Susan Shurin, acting director of NHLBI, said that “we’re working still with Dr. Healy’s powerful legacy.” She explained that NHLBI’s Heart Truth Campaign, which educates women about the number one killer of women in the U.S., “builds on the momentum” of the WHI.

“Without her push, the Women’s Health Initiative wouldn’t be what it is today and wouldn’t have had the impact it did,” said Shurin, adding that “the health savings may have paid for the Women’s Health Initiative several times over.”

Healy also established a policy of gender equity in clinical trial enrollment and founded NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) to support women’s health research and career opportunities for women in medical science.

Dr. Vivian Pinn, former director of ORWH, asked those present to remember Healy as “a leader, an innovator in science and medicine, not just as a woman in these roles.”

Former Rep. Connie Morella was among those who paid tribute to Healy at the Nov. 18 event.
Former Rep. Connie Morella was among those who paid tribute to Healy at the Nov. 18 event.

Healy took on other roles in science and medicine after leaving the NIH directorship in 1993. One of these was as a health columnist for U.S. News and World Report. Her former colleague, health editor Avery Comarow, recalled that while “Bernie never came to terms with punctuation,” clear communication of complex medical topics to a general audience was a “core value” to the former NIH director, who was passionate about the topics she addressed.

Comarow also recalled Healy’s humility and her collaborative spirit. He was shocked when she thanked him for his heavy edits on her first piece. Healy told Comarow, “You made it better.” “Four words an editor rarely hears,” he said.

All of Healy’s work was rooted in a profound compassion and a desire to heal the sick, several speakers said.Dr. Jay Moskowitz, former NIH deputy director, remembered a letter that arrived at the Office of the Director one day, addressed to “Dr. Bernadine Healer.” Moskowitz explained, “That’s how many of us remember her.”

Former NIH deputy director Dr. Jay Moskowitz

Former NIH deputy director Dr. Jay Moskowitz

Photos: Ernie Branson

Collins noted that in the midst of Healy’s 13-year battle against brain cancer, she championed NIH’s Cancer Genome Atlas Project, which has now collected comprehensive genomic information on more than two dozen cancers to spur research into new treatments.

“She knew that the Atlas would not arrive in time for her,” said Collins, “but she wanted it to help others in the future.”

Healy understood that patients’ lives were intimately tied up in NIH-supported research and urged her colleagues to work quickly to save as many as possible. This exhortation still echoes in the minds of her former colleagues.

“We will never forget you,” said Moskowitz, in Healy’s memory. “We will never forget to hurry.”

Healy’s husband Dr. Floyd Loop was present at the ceremony, as were their daughters Marie McGrath Loop and Bartlett Anne Healy Russell. Also on the program were Tim Gardner, medical director, Center for Heart & Vascular Health, Christiana Care; former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala (by recorded video), president, University of Miami; and Connie Morella, former U.S. congresswoman representing Maryland’s 8th district. NIHRecord Icon


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