Nancy Reagan’s ties to Barrow Neurological Institute remembered

Nancy Reagan visit Barrow Lab.

Nancy Reagan visit Barrow Lab.

On the eve of the former First Lady’s funeral, leaders at Barrow Neurological Institute remembered Nancy Reagan’s visit to the Phoenix institute, the role her father played in medicine at Barrow and in the Valley and her family’s dedication to helping advance medical care.

Nancy Reagan dedicates the new lab at Barrow with Dr. Robert Spetzler.

Nancy Reagan dedicates the new lab at Barrow with Dr. Robert Spetzler.

Mrs. Reagan visited Barrow, which is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, in 1988 to dedicate a new research laboratory honoring her late stepfather and mother, Dr. Loyal Davis and Edith Davis.

Dr. Davis, a neurosurgeon, had served as interim director of Barrow from 1965 to 1966.

“When Mrs. Reagan came to visit Barrow in 1988, she remarked about the great advances that were being made in medicine.  I’m sure she would be delighted at the continuing progress that Barrow has made,” said Dr. Robert Spetzler, director of Barrow.

Dr. Spetzler who helped tour the former First Lady during her visit said: “I was saddened by her death and hope we can continue to make the bold advances that she expected from us.  Her stepfather was not only the interim director at Barrow, but he was also one of my professors when I was in medical school at Northwestern University.”

At a luncheon at the hospital following the dedication, the Associated Press reported that Mrs. Reagan choked up as she told the audience, “If I were going to, God forbid, have something done to my brain, I’d want somebody trained by my father.  I hope your research will contribute to the health and happiness of your patients and that would make my father and mother very happy.”

Nancy Reagan in the Barrow Lab with Dr. Joseph Zabraski, left, and Dr. Robert Spetzler.

Nancy Reagan in the Barrow Lab with Dr. Joseph Zabraski, left, and Dr. Robert Spetzler.

The Davises moved to Phoenix after Dr. Davis retired from his Chicago neurosurgical practice.  He died in Phoenix in 1982.

“I had the pleasure of knowing Nancy and her mother for many years,” said Dr. Joseph Zabramski, a Barrow neurosurgeon.

“Her legacy of supporting the advancement of medicine lives on here at the Barrow.  She not only inspired the medical community, but thousands and thousands of caregivers.   We will all miss her passion for improving the lives of those struggling with difficult illnesses.”

Mrs. Reagan became an outspoken advocate of medical research into Alzheimer’s Disease after President Reagan was stricken with the disease.

The president’s oldest son, Michael Reagan wrote the forward for a book co-edited by the Director of Barrow’s Alzheimer’s Program, Dr. Marwan Sabbagh.

In the poignant forward to the 2011 book titled:  Palliative Care for Advanced Alzheimer’s and Dementia,  the president’s son wrote of his father,  “His communications devolved … to simply responding to being hugged by the family he loved so much.  Dr. Gary Martin and Dr. Sabbagh have assembled a team of experts to help craft recommendations that should ultimately become standards that all professional caregivers adopt.”

Dr. Sabbagh commented after the former First Lady’s death, “Nancy Reagan, like her late husband, President Reagan, was a larger than life iconic American.  Aside from her imprint on U.S. history, she quietly was a caregiver for a person affected with Alzheimer’s disease.  Her graciousness in the face of adversity is a role model to all.”

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