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The Eleanor Diss Sabin, MD, Scholarship

Donors and Recipients Meet at Anschutz Luncheon


(Front row) Eleanor Sabin's parents Minnie and William
Diss; (Back row) Dr. Sabin's sister Martha Diss
Sundby, scholarship recipient Stephen Wills, and Dr.
Sabin's widower Michael Sabin.

(Feb. 10, 2011) AURORA - After Eleanor Sabin, MD, died in 2009 from cancer, her oldest sister Martha Diss Sundby began considering how to honor her memory.

She remembered that Dr. Sabin, a perinatologist, often talked about the health crises her rural patients faced.

“Women would be helicoptered in at the last minute because they had not had adequate medical care during their pregnancy,” she says.

And so the Eleanor Diss Sabin, MD, Scholarship was born with the intention of supporting and encouraging medical students specializing in rural health.

On Feb. 10, 2011, Sundby, her parents, and Eleanor Sabin’s widower, Mike Sabin, gathered at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for a donor appreciation luncheon. Attended by several donors and recipients, the banquet afforded the family an opportunity to meet Stephen Wills, one of two recipients of the scholarship for the 2010-11 academic year.

Following introductions, the family and Wills gathered around a table, and Wills told the family how important the gift was to him. (Sundby has made a $50,000 commitment to set up the fund.) He predicted the scholarship would help keep him in rural health, whose practitioners make less money than other types of physicians.

“I won’t have that same burden of debt to push me into a different specialty,” he says.  “And you feel supported as you’re going through classes. You’re not just in it for yourself but for the people who believe in the same goals.”

Wills has received two other scholarships – from the National Western Stock Show and the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) – and he can testify to their importance. Rising fees and tuition costs amount to at least $150,000 for four years of medical education.

“The debt is always in the back of your mind,” he says. “You get letters from the loan companies in the mail, so there is always the temptation to look at other options.

“Also with our backgrounds, we’ve trained and trained to be the best at what we do. You get to this point where you think, family practice? Is that settling for less? But the people who dedicated the scholarships are people who want us to go into primary care and who value those specialties.”

At the luncheon, Wills and the family realized that they shared many interests.

For example, Eleanor Sabin, who was 51 years old when she died after an eight-year battle with carcinoid disease, had received a basketball scholarship from University of Denver, where she majored in physical education. Even after she returned to school to become a doctor, she continued to love sports and coached her children’s teams.

“I have been an athlete most of my life,” Wills said. “Dr. Sabin played basketball at DU and was a physical education teacher. My mom was a PE teacher. One thing that was really important to me was that my parents showed up for all my sporting events. Mike Sabin is doing the same thing for his kids.”

Sundby wanted the scholarship to go to someone who, like her sister, had interests outside the field of medicine; Eleanor Sabin liked to make costumes for her three children, Charlie, Rose and Grace, and was known for her Christmas and Easter parties. “I wanted not just someone who does well academically, but someone who is well-rounded and interested in other things; someone who has both the mind and spirit to attend to people’s needs.”

Wills, a 26-year-old first-year student, fits that description. He has traveled the world and spent two years in Malawi with the Peace Corps teaching biology in a secondary school in a village. It was there he decided to become a doctor.

“A lot of students and teachers got ill while I was there, and I went to the hospital with them. I went to a lot of funerals. I even helped embalm one of my good friends.

“There was a lot of suffering but also a lot of energy and hope. We pulled together as a community. It was inspiring, and I decided then that that’s what I wanted to do as a doctor.”

Wills and the family intend to stay in touch.

“I got business cards so I can communicate with them,” he said. “The scholarship means more to me now.”