Record Heersink donation of $95 million to advance strategic growth and biomedical innovation.
In recognition of a transformative $95 million gift from Marnix E. Heersink, MD, a longtime supporter of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the UAB School of Medicine will be called now the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.
The record donation is the largest philanthropic commitment in the university’s history and will name the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, as well as the creation and name of the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation and from the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health. The gift will provide support with endowment and pure funds for key initiatives of the School of Medicine.
Heersink, an eye surgeon, innovator, and renowned entrepreneur, hopes this gift will inspire and catalyze additional philanthropic contributions that support high-impact recruitments, programs, and research at the School of Medicine. UAB will bolster this philanthropic support with a generous $5 million contribution from Triton Health Systems, bringing total support for the school to $100 million.
UAB Senior Vice President of Medicine and Dean of the School of Medicine Selwyn Vickers, MD, FACS, says Heersink’s gift and others he inspires will define the School’s future direction of Medicine.
“On behalf of the School of Medicine and all the people we serve across Alabama, the nation, and the world — now and in the years to come — I sincerely thank Dr. Heersink,” Vickers said. “This act of immense generosity reflects his heart for service and the magnitude of our shared ambition for the UAB School of Medicine to be a world leader in biomedical discovery and innovation, medical education and patient care. It is a powerful affirmation of the limitless potential of our school and reinforces what we have always known: that UAB is truly a world-class institution.
In just five years, the UAB School of Medicine has grown its National Institutes of Health research portfolio by $100 million, making it one of eight schools in the nation to do so. This growth catapulted the School of Medicine’s NIH ranking from #31 in 2014 to #21 among all schools and the top 10 public medical schools. In addition, 12 departments ranked among the top 20.
Vickers says the generous pledge was a strategic decision made by Heersink to invest in a medical school with a rapidly growing trajectory and growing opportunities for transformative impact in scientific discovery, training and clinical care. Additionally, this gift will support the school’s strategic growth and help recruit and retain the brightest scientists and physicians in priority areas such as precision medicine and pharmacogenomics, pulmonology, oncology, neurology, health disparities, immunology, and others through endowed professorships and chairs upon subsequent approval of occupants proposed by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.
The commitment also seeks to create and name a new biomedical institute, the first of its kind, and an associated support fund – the Marnix E. Heersink Institute of Biomedical Innovation and the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Endowed Support Fund – as well as the name of the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Conference Center. The institute will focus on entrepreneurial healthcare innovation initiatives that promote and facilitate healthcare and socio-economic transformation. The institute’s primary location will be at UAB, with a prominent physical presence in Dothan, Alabama, the hometown of the Heersink family.
Heersink says UAB’s history of notable achievement and aggressive pursuit of excellence motivated him to partner with the school to advance their shared priorities. He attributes his affinity for the school to a set of qualities it embodies which he calls the three E’s: excellence, expansive and encompassing.
“I saw that in everything it does, the school strives for excellence, strives to expand its reach, values collaboration, and embraces diverse backgrounds, voices, and talents,” Heersink said. “This gift will build on the school’s tremendous momentum and strengthen its ability to innovate and deliver on the three Es (excellence, expansive, inclusive) in a very strategic way. I look forward to a continued partnership to support his life-changing work. Mary and I so appreciate the wonderful upbringing UAB has given our family and we now look forward to the increased presence of UAB in our home town of Dothan.
Naming the School of Medicine has been a priority of Vickers and UAB President Ray L. Watts, MD; they point out that a gift of this size supports and enhances the school’s global reputation in a very powerful and public way.
“Having the Heersink name on the school is a powerful testament to its competitiveness among the top academic medical centers in the world, which is indeed the result of our focus on the three Es: excellence, expansive and encompassing,” Watts said. . “Dr. Heersink’s transformative support is essential to building our global profile and impact, and his humility and commitment to making the world a better place is inspiring. We will work diligently every day to honor his trust.”
Learn more about UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine here.
Heersink says UAB and the School of Medicine have been instrumental in his family’s life. He and his wife, Mary Parks Heersink, have been married for 43 years and have six children: ophthalmologists Mila, a graduate of the UAB School of Medicine, and Sebastian, a graduate of MIT and Georgetown Medical School; Bayne, a dentist who graduated from the UAB School of Dentistry, including a two-year fellowship in prosthodontics from UAB; Damion, a licensed US patent attorney, who is currently training to become an internal medicine physician at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans; and twins Christiaan and Marius – both attended the Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP) and earned a combined MD/MBA degree from UAB and are in residency in ophthalmology and family medicine, respectively. The Heersinks’ daughter-in-law, Juanita Titrud Heersink, MD, was Ms. UAB in 2003, graduated from UAB School of Medicine, and completed her residency in internal medicine at UAB.
The Heersinks are well-known philanthropists in Alabama and beyond, having made significant donations from their personal funds and through their family foundation. Past donations and pledges to UAB include those to renovate the atrium of the School of Medicine’s Volker Hall and establish the Heersink Family Active Learning Resource Center at Volker Hall, the Heersink Family Endowed Glaucoma Fellowship, and the Heersink Family Foundation Scholarship Endowment in Optometry, among others.
The $95 million commitment also seeks to create and name the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health and the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health Endowed Support Fund, dedicated to developing and implementing educational and mentorship programs as well as well as experiential opportunities for global health interns and scholars.
The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees formally accepted the $95 million donation at its September 28 special meeting and unanimously approved the nomination of UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation, the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, and other entities described in the donation agreement.
“We are proud that UAB has played an important role in the life of the Heersink family and has chosen to help advance the transformational trajectory of the School of Medicine,” said the system chancellor. UA, Finis St. John. “On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the University of Alabama system, and all those we serve, I thank the Heersinks for their record-breaking donation, which will further strengthen our system-wide commitment to the excellence in teaching, research, and service, and will expand our positive impact in Alabama and beyond.
Dr. Heersink is a cataract and refractive laser surgeon and co-owner and president of Eye Center South in Dothan, a practice he and John Fortin, MD, opened in 1980 and now has 12 offices in Alabama, Florida. and in Georgia. Heersink and his family opened the Health Center South, a state-of-the-art 140,000 square foot medical complex for doctors of all specialties in Dothan. Heersink also owns or is an agent for numerous other companies, including real estate properties and manufacturing entities in the United States and abroad. He is a fellow and fellow of several professional organizations including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, International College of Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is certified by the American Board of Eye Surgeons. His professional memberships also include the Houston County Medical Society, Alabama State Medical Association, American Intraocular Implant Society, and American Medical Association. He has a special interest and training in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of cataracts as well as laser vision correction. Heersink is also the founder of the Eye Education Foundation, which organizes continuing education seminars each year where doctors share their knowledge, experience and knowledge. The seminary, accredited in many states, is in its 33rd year.
Mary Heersink serves on the Board of Visitors for the UAB School of Medicine. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Masters Program in Global Health, a joint initiative of McMaster University in Canada, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, Manipal University in India and Thomassat University. in Thailand. After her then 11-year-old son Damion nearly died from E. coli in the early 1990s, she wrote the book, “E. coli 0157: The True Story of a Mother’s Battle With a Killer Microbe”, and became a key advocate for federal monitoring and regulation . She co-founded and serves on the board of STOP Foodborne Illness, a national food safety organization. She also serves or has served on the board of many non-profit and civic organizations in the Dothan area, including Girls Clubs of Dothan, Wiregrass Museum of Art, Houston Academy and Landmark Park.
An event will be planned at UAB to officially recognize and celebrate the Heersinks and this transformational gift.
“The significance of this record-breaking donation to the School of Medicine, UAB and the University of Alabama system cannot be overstated,” Watts said. “We look forward to celebrating the Heersinks, their generosity, and the significant advances in research, medical education and healthcare that we will accomplish together.”