Jim and Miriam Mulva share the motivation
By Angela Curtis
Jim and Miriam Mulva know firsthand how disorders of the brain and nervous system can touch families. Jim’s mother suffered from dementia, and Miriam’s mother and grandfather had strokes. But it wasn’t until talking with Clay Johnston, dean of UT’s Dell Medical School, that they realized just how universal experiences like theirs are.
“Clay made it clear that the brain is the future of medicine and that Austin deserves a world destination for patient care and research in the neurosciences,” Miriam says.
Those conversations with Johnston were the genesis of the James J. and Miriam B. Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences at Dell Med. In December 2016, the couple announced a $50 million, multiyear commitment to create and fund the clinic, which aspires to become a global leader in understanding neurological and psychiatric diseases and conditions.
The Mulva Clinic will underwrite neuroscience patient care, research, and clinical operations, with a special emphasis initially on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and bipolar disorder. The clinic will provide specialized neurological services for patients with conditions such as dementia, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, brain injuries, and mental health disorders.
“We haven’t done a very good job at this, as a society,” says Jim, BBA ’68, MBA ’69. A 2005 recipient of the Texas Exes’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, he is a former chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips. “Miriam and I want to try to make a difference.”
The couple announced the gift in conjunction with a $25 million gift to another UT System institution, Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, to study prostate cancer and melanoma. Their son Jonathan was successfully treated for melanoma at MD Anderson.
“So many of these things touch all our families,” Miriam says. “Everybody knows someone, probably in their immediate family, who has had cancer or Alzheimer’s.”
By giving to medical causes at two different UT institutions, the Mulvas hope to encourage people to look at the UT System in a new light. The system, they say, epitomizes more than just stellar academics; it also represents innovations in patient care.
The Mulvas’ latest donation will take their cumulative UT Austin support past $125 million. They previously pledged $20 million to help construct the Engineering Education and Research Center and $40 million to renovate two undergraduate business buildings. That’s on top of a $15 million gift to UT’s ROTC programs and the College of Liberal Arts.
What inspires such transformational donations to the university?
“This is Jim’s school,” Miriam says. “This is what gave him his start. This is why we have what we have — because he got the education here. They taught him how to think, how to write, how to speak.”
Faith also plays a role in the couple’s philanthropy, which stretches from their birthplaces in Wisconsin to their adopted second home in Austin to a Vatican seminary. One day, Miriam and Jim believe, they’ll be asked to account for how they handled their good fortune.
“Someday someone’s going to say, ‘I gave you all this stuff. What did you do with it? Did you try to help someone? Did you try to do something, or did you hoard it?’ ” Jim says.
“We’re here to help each other,” Miriam says. “Otherwise, why are we here? You have to align your giving with your passions. I think that’s really important.”
Those passions include education, the Catholic Church, youth, community, and the elderly. In addition to UT, the Mulvas have given to Miriam’s alma mater, St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican.
In talking with Johnston, Jim asked the dean to pick two or three areas where he thought the school could make a lasting difference. Along with Dell Med’s signature initiatives of population health and redesigning health care with a focus on value, the neurosciences quickly came to the forefront.
The Mulvas’ gift promises to help
Stigma surrounding some neurological conditions, especially mental illness, can make it harder to raise money for the neurosciences than for cancer or heart disease. But with enough resources, Jim says, the university is in a unique position to bring researchers and clinicians together to study the brain. No other place is better suited, he believes, to put the disciplines of medicine and engineering, as well as psychology, social work, nursing, pharmacy, and the arts and humanities, under one umbrella and start from scratch.
“We wanted to really push the frontier,” Jim says. “And with a new center, one that doesn’t yet exist — it’s a clean sheet of paper.”
The Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, set to open before the end of 2017, will grow alongside the medical school, opening a new range of services and treatments and reinforcing the school’s transformational role as it strives to become a global destination for neuroscience-related treatment. At the same time, both the school and clinic will support better health in Central Texas by treating low-income and uninsured patients in the local area.
“I have spent many years caring for people with neurological and psychiatric diseases and seen the impact they have on individuals and their families,” Johnston says. “The Mulva Clinic will make a real difference addressing these devastating health issues that have afflicted far too many people. The gift allows us to launch on a trajectory to become a world-class center for the treatment and study of these diseases, pulling together great strengths that already exist across the university and in the community. We’re looking forward to some amazing collaborations.”
For their part, the Mulvas can’t wait to see the impact of their gift.
Says Miriam, “If we can help in some small way to alleviate suffering and save lives, that’s just an amazing thing.”
LEADING A REVOLUTION
Neuroscience revolves around the study of the most complex and least understood living structure on earth: the human brain. Because of its complexity, the brain is vulnerable to a staggering assortment of maladies affecting more than 90 million Americans every year at a cost of more than $650 billion.
That is why President Greg Fenves, Dell Med Dean Clay Johnston, and colleges and schools across the UT campus are committed to “Leading the Brain Health Revolution,” which UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven has established as one of his “Quantum Leaps.” The goal: to better understand, prevent, treat, and cure diseases and disorders of the brain.
UT Austin already is home to more than 70 top scientists who represent virtually every major field in neuroscience. As part of a world-class research university, Dell Med offers unique opportunities to unite diverse researchers and clinicians in their efforts. The Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences will make the most of this cross-campus collaboration, building pathways to new advances faster than ever before.
What’s next? The university is positioned to become one of the world’s neuroscience epicenters. With further philanthropic investments targeting professorships and chairs, fellowships, innovation seed grants, and clinical startup funds across disciplines, the Forty Acres can be at the forefront of improving and saving lives affected by nervous system disorders.
For more information about supporting neuroscience at UT, please contact Amanda Brown Irving at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-475-9510, or Mark Kimbell at Mark.Kimbell@austin.utexas.edu or 512-495-5110.
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