A Day in the Life at UNMC

Friends fuel Nancy Armitage professorship

Dr. Jim Armitage, right, launched one of the most successful bone marrow transplant programs in the world for the treatment of blood cancers. But So many who have been treated by Dr. Armitage have found that their lives have been impacted by his wife, Nancy, as well.
Dr. Jim Armitage, right, launched one of the most successful bone marrow transplant programs in the world for the treatment of blood cancers. But so many who have been treated by Dr. Armitage have found that their lives have been impacted by his wife, Nancy, as well.

Tom Lutsey, of Green Bay, Wis., gets emotional when he talks about hosting James Armitage, M.D., and Dr. Armitage’s wife, Nancy, at a Green Bay Packers game.

“It was just so great to be able to show my boys who saved my life,” he said.

But he wasn’t just talking about Dr. Armitage, who treated Lutsey for cancer, years ago.

“Then I got to meet Nancy,” Lutsey said, “and I found out why he’s a good guy.”

Tom Lutsey helped launch the Nancy Armitage professorship campaign.
Tom Lutsey helped launch the Nancy Armitage professorship campaign.

It’s a familiar story, among Dr. Armitage’s patients. So many who have been treated by Dr. Armitage have found that their lives have been impacted by Nancy Armitage, as well.

Michael Sorrell, M.D., called it, “The power of Nancy.”

And so a small group  of former patients, longtime friends and UNMC colleagues have come together to create the Nancy Armitage Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research Professorship at UNMC.

Nancy’s mother died of pancreatic cancer at age 67, and Nancy herself is now being treated for the disease.

“I am incredibly proud of my wife,” Dr. Armitage said. “She is smart, and tough, and kind and brave.”

Lutsey and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., honored Nancy Armitage.
Lutsey and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., honored Nancy Armitage.

“A lady who would deck a guy at a football game,” Lutsey said admiringly.

Ward Chambers, M.D., can confirm this. His beloved “Missourah” had come to town and beaten the Huskers, and Nancy decided Dr. Chambers was celebrating a little too enthusiastically.

“She punched me in the chest,” Dr. Chambers recalled, “and knocked me over the bleachers,” to the approving cheers of surrounding Husker fans, including Dr. Chambers’ own daughter.

Nancy has license to do that. They go back, Dr. Chambers said, all the way to “Dec. 24, 1970. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Dr. Chambers was lying in bed, he woke up and opened his eyes, and there was Nancy Armitage, dressed all in white.

She was his ICU nurse.

“She introduced me to injectable narcotics.”

Dr. Chambers, in med school at the time, was undergoing lung surgery. “Our relationship as nurse-patient was just so-so,” Dr. Chambers joked.

But she encouraged her husband, Jim, to sit at the bedside of the med-school classmate he hadn’t previously known well.

William Berry was among the former patients who insisted on stepping forward to support and honor Nancy Armitage.
William Berry and his wife, Sandy, a former patient, were among those who insisted on stepping forward to support and honor Nancy Armitage.

Their families would be close for the next 46 years, and counting.

Jon Darbyshire, a former patient, recalled other hospitals indicating it could be months before they got to his case. But Dr. Armitage said, “Jon, I work for you. And everybody here works for me. When do you want to get started?”

Jon and his wife, Tara, were in.

But then, at every visit, Dr. Armitage would talk about his wife, Nancy, how they should all go out to dinner together.

Eventually, the Darbyshires realized this was part of the treatment, too.

William Berry, from Michigan, whose wife Sandy was a patient, said, “It didn’t start getting better until we met Jim, and subsequently, Nancy.”

When they heard Nancy herself had cancer, “We wondered if there was anything meaningful we could do.”

“This has really been one of the most rewarding projects I have ever had the honor of helping with,” said Tom Thompson of the NU Foundation.

The named professorship is to attract and retain a “rising star” in pancreatic cancer clinical research.

Tom Lutsey, center, thanked Nancy Armitage for all she had done for him and his family.
Tom Lutsey, center, thanked Nancy Armitage for all she had done for him and his family.

“It is a statement that the community really cares,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. It’s the kind of tool, the chancellor said, that helps UNMC go out and get the kind of candidate who otherwise wouldn’t move.

“It’s a magnet, the opportunity to recruit and retain the very best faculty in the country,” Dr. Gold said.

Contributions to the professorship are approaching $600,000, and with continued funding, it could eventually become an endowed chair.

“It will have a lasting impact,” Dr. Armitage said.

Just as Nancy Armitage has, with so many who cross her path.

A reception celebration and recognition is open to visitors and campus friends and colleagues on Monday, Jan. 30 in the Truhlsen Event Center. If you would like to participate by making a gift, you can do so by visiting www.nufoundation.org/NancyArmitageProfessorship, by picking up a pledge card in the Oncology/Hematology Offices, the Cowdery Patient Care Center, or by contacting Tom Thompson at (402) 502-4116. 

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