A Message from the Director: Sharing Gratitude

April 24, 2020 Posted by AHW Endowment


Monday was a day like so many others I have had in my career as a physician — and yet quite peculiar. As usual, I woke up at 5 a.m. — kissed my son, husband, and pooch goodbye and drove to the hospital to care for a dozen patients needing surgery, as I am an anesthesiologist. But driving into work there was no traffic. On arrival at the hospital, the parking lot was only half full and everyone walking in wore a mask. As I left my car and approached my office suite, the front walkway had been decorated by community members, with colorful sidewalk chalk messages of support for our work to care for those in need.

I am lucky. My hospital has access to COVID testing, ventilators, masks, gowns, and PPE. However, I still found myself anxious throughout the day: wondering if I'd fall ill, expose my family to COVID, or even succumb to the disease as hundreds of health care workers have across the world. I also wondered about the future of AHW, and the organization we call home, the Medical College of Wisconsin. I know the financial turmoil that is upon us. I know that a critical task ahead is to ensure that our financial future remains solid – holding true to our public stewardship mission while also pushing forward with our commitment to make positive change possible statewide. I know that similar thoughts weigh on you, our partners across Wisconsin, as you navigate the future of your research, your organizations, and your health centers and programs.

In spite of the anxiety, I also found myself feeling hopeful. Lifted up by the joy of meeting a spirited 74-year-old woman, whose broken arm we were able to fix and send her home. And holding the hand of a 22-year-old, whose tumor we removed earlier that day, as he looked for answers about his diagnosis. Checking my email, I saw updates on several projects funded through our COVID-19 response funding – seeing that educational and outreach efforts are moving forward, PPE is being 3-D printed and delivered to the front lines, and steps to expand testing availability and treatment are advancing.

The hope I feel is amplified by your extraordinary work to support people across Wisconsin during this time. As I move throughout my days from patient care to administration to philanthropy, I know that hundreds of you continue your efforts to make sure our state comes through this. And I am humbled and proud to be a part of it.

This is a special week for me. Today I celebrate my birthday, and five years ago this week I returned home from my Navy deployment to Afghanistan. As I walked through the operating room earlier this week, I couldn't help but reflect on how grateful I am to be a physician and to have the opportunity to help guide the work of AHW to create positive impacts across the state.

Leaving the hospital, I came across this message written on a window overlooking the operative suite:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

—Mister Rogers

Please know that you are among the ranks of the helpers, and I am grateful for the work that you do. I have never been prouder of our shared work. On behalf of the entire staff at AHW, we look forward to supporting you in your work build a healthier Wisconsin today, and for generations to come.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.


Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH
Senior Associate Dean and Director
Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment
Professor, Anesthesiology
Medical College of Wisconsin