Joining Forces to Give Back
A mutual friend introduced Charlotte residents William and Gigi Harris and Mattye and Marc Silverman because both couples had experienced the unthinkable—they had a child die after fighting a brain tumor.
The Harris’ first daughter, Margaret, was just three years old in 1995 when she was diagnosed. “The doctors at Duke provided hope—not false hope, but an attainable goal,” Gigi Harris says. “I remember the doctors saying, ‘We’re going to make her feel better, and let’s get through one day at a time.’” Margaret was treated with several chemotherapies, each of which worked for a while. Meanwhile, her family and friends rallied around. A friend had bumper stickers made up with Margaret’s name on them, in her favorite color—hot pink. “There were 3,000 bumper stickers all over our neighborhood, and Margaret would see them and know that people in Charlotte wanted her to feel better,” Gigi Harris says. Margaret was beginning preparations for a bone-marrow transplant when she passed away.
Mattye and Marc Silverman’s son David was diagnosed with glioblastoma while he was working his first job after graduating with Bachelor’s and Master in Accounting degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill. Initially, doctors told him he had six months to live. Under the care of Henry Friedman, MD, David lived two years. “Henry and David connected unbelievably,” Mattye Silverman says. “Henry would come in and just sit down on the floor and start talking to David, as friends.”
“When one drug didn’t work, they would try another one. It was a grueling and debilitating treatment, but Henry and the nurses were so wonderful. It was as good a treatment as David could have received anywhere,” Mattye Silverman says.
The couples decided to turn their shared bond into something positive—raising funds to help prevent what happened to them from happening to others.
“After Margaret died, we had all these friends with energy who wanted to do something,” Gigi Harris says. After attending Duke Forest 5K (an early version of the race that is now Angels Among Us, which raises money for brain cancer research at Duke), “We said, ‘We could do this in Charlotte,‘” she says. The couple teamed up with the Silvermans and launched the annual Hope Builders 5K to raise money for brain cancer research at Duke. They and their friends accomplished every task needed to organize the race themselves, including having T-shirts made and equipping and manning water stations. “It’s not easy to fundraise for Duke in Charlotte,” Mattye Silverman says. “Marc and I called in every chit we had.” The first year, the race raised more than $50,000.
After several years of the race, the four friends realized that they had raised almost enough to endow a professorship. “I remember Ellen Stainback from the brain tumor center and Dr. Darrell Bigner saying, ‘You can really do this,’” says Gigi Harris.
“We just felt like we had to give back, so other people would have the opportunity to get the treatment that we received and hopefully someday be able to help find not only far better treatments, but also real cures,” Marc Silverman says. Adds Mattye Silverman, “After serving on the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Board for 25 years, we have seen so many amazing advances such as the new poliovirus or other new treatments, we can foresee something that in 1997 we would have thought was not possible in our lifetime: that a brain tumor might just be a chronic disease that doesn’t kill people. Maybe something that Duke is doing with the funds we gave to the endowment can help to keep other parents from losing wonderful children.”
The Margaret Harris and David Silverman Professorship in Neuro-Oncology Research is vacant. The School of Medicine looks forward to filling this professorship in the near future.