A Passion For Giving Couple throw themselves into causes local and world-wide

A Passion For Giving Couple throw themselves into causes local and world-wide

Brian Morelli • Iowa City Press-Citizen • November 12, 2008

Appearing to breathe like a real dog, a toy called Perfect Petzzz intrigued Darlene McCord enough to buy it. McCord sat on her couch with the stuffed animal on her lap in her downtown Iowa City condo one night and was struck by how relaxed and comforted it made her feel. Then an idea popped into her head.

"The kids at the hospital need one of these," the 64-year-old Iowa City woman thought.

A few days later, she drove to University Hospitals with 47 of them in her trunk and gave them to a hospital official. For about two years now, there has been an open-ended agreement courtesy of McCord and her husband, Jim: all pediatric cancer patients and children in with other serious and chronic illnesses receive one -- along with batteries -- "so when mom and dad go home, they still have something there with them."

The McCords don't necessarily set out to help, it just happens. They become passionate about causes, and when they see a need, now that they are able to, they give and give. The couple is most supportive of biomedical research. After all, Darlene McCord is a biochemist, and her research in skin and wound care generated the assets they now have.

Darlene McCord developed the brand Remedy, which is the current sales leader in wound care products for hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes, according to company McCord Research's Web site.

McCord Research - Corneotrophic Medicine

Redox and Cell Cycle lab research scientist Dr. Ehab Sarsour discusses results from a Real-time PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) system, which is used to measure gene expression, with Darlene McCord on Tuesday at the Medical Education and Research Facility in Iowa City.

The McCords have supported biomedical research at the University of Iowa for a few years now. They recently committed $2.3 million to aging and wound healing research, among other aspects of the gift. This translates to two scholarships and four fellowships, plus their mentors.

Rebekah Bartelt, 25, of Charles City, is a third-year UI graduate student studying how cells respond to skin wounds. She received a $20,000 scholarship.

"It frees up a lot of resources for our lab in general. It frees up money from other sources," Bartelt said. "It increases the possibilities for what I personally can do and for the lab."

The enthusiasm Darlene McCord brings when checking in on the research "rejuvenates" Bartelt's own passion for her work, she said.

The McCords give back their earnings to support the research of students like Bartelt. Darlene McCord points to the decline in support from National Institutes of Health, a prominent agency for scientific research funding, to about 17 percent of requests.

"Our young researchers at UI are today's pioneers, and no one is funding them. We are falling behind in science. No one is funding areas that are tomorrow's cures. This country wasn't built on safe dollars," she said. "From the moment they get a Ph.D, they get rejected and rejected and rejected."

Libby Slappey, a development officer at the UI Foundation, met Darlene McCord in January 2007 and has worked with the McCords on some of their gifts.

"I think the best word that describes them is passionate. They are as passionate about Hawkeye football as about the Buruli ulcer," Slappey said. "We could not ask for finer supporters."

The McCords had been living in Nevada until a few years ago, but had been traveling to Hawkeye football games for 20 years. Jim McCord, 70, has three UI degrees, he said.

A few years ago, Darlene decided to buy a condo in town as a gift to Jim for when they came for sports, but she connected with the research community here and decided she wanted to move permanently.

Their passion for Hawkeye sports manifests in contributions to the UI spirit squad, which includes dancers, cheerleaders and Herky because "they aren't considered athletes so they aren't funded, yet they are working year round at all these events," Darlene McCord said. They also contribute to Hancher Auditorium and the UI rowing team.

"There is a common thread to our giving. They are all young people --scientists or kids with Buruli ulcers or athletes. These are all young people who are putting in a special effort," Darlene McCord said.

However, they don't direct all their money to Iowa. They have started a project called the Buruli Ulcer Project, which aims to treat and cure a skin ulcer that mainly affects children in poorer countries. For $15, the condition can be treated if caught in early stages. Left untreated, it causes painful and visually stigmatizing open sores and even death.

The McCords have started a Pennies Have Power fund to support treatment in West Africa. They also fund research at UI to study treatment methods and researchers at Michigan State University and University of Tennessee to discover a cure.

The McCords hope their contributions are seeds for future research and that they inspire others to realize they can support specific endeavors.

"When you make more money than you need, what do you do with your abundance? You can buy yachts and planes or you can put money in areas you believe in," Darlene McCord said. "The cures may come long after we're gone, but what a legacy."