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Mary Dempsey & Kevin Hitzeman

Mary Dempsey & Kevin HitzemanThe excitement was palpable as Kevin Hitzeman again increased his bid on the once-in-a-lifetime trip and tour behind the scenes of The Bonnie Hunt Show at Culver Studios in California. Mary Dempsey was caught up in the moment, but admittedly surprised, as her husband had not let on that he would bid so enthusiastically. When Mr. Hitzeman and Ms. Dempsey won the unique auction item at the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute (NBTI) celebration and launch on Sept. 29, 2009, it was a terrific culmination of the journey they had begun nine and a half years earlier. 

In April 2000, Kevin Hitzeman was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His first round of treatment ended in February 2001, but he continued to be concerned about some persisting health issues. Mary Dempsey remembers how she and her husband felt "alone and a little lost," and how it felt when Dr. Maryanne Marymont, one of Mr. Hitzeman's physicians and assistant professor in the Departments of Radiation Oncology and Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, introduced them to Dr. Jeffrey Raizer, at that time new to Northwestern as associate professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurological Sciences. "It was like the oceans parting," Ms. Dempsey says, describing the impact that Dr. Raizer had in her husband's life. 

Over the next few years, Ms. Dempsey and Mr. Hitzeman became increasingly involved in supporting Dr. Raizer and his colleagues at Northwestern. After years of casual meetings as "Fund Raizers," they were asked to formally join together with other grateful patients and friends to form the Advisory Council for the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute, which was then led by Dr. Raizer and Dr. James Chandler, Rudy E. Sabbagha, MD, Distinguished Physician and associate professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Feinberg. 

And in fact, at the official launch of the NBTI that September evening, prior to winning a tour behind the scenes at Culver Studios, Ms. Dempsey had served tirelessly as event co-chair. "It was exciting to see the emotions running throughout the room," Ms. Dempsey recalls. "We were definitely caught up in the fun." 

While enjoying their auction prize at The Bonnie Hunt Show in Culver Studios, the fun continued. Ms. Dempsey remembers touring the lot and enjoying the history of the illustrious studio. "Gone with the Wind was filmed at the studio, and when we were in Bonnie Hunt's post-production studio, I saw that it had been Gloria Swanson's dressing room," she says. "Everyone on the staff of the show was friendly and generous with their time. I got the sense that they were genuinely happy to be there." After taping the episode, which featured actor Joe Pantoliano talking about his latest project, a documentary for a non-profit group dedicated to combating the stigma of mental illness, No Kidding, Me Too!, Ms. Dempsey and Mr. Hitzeman were treated to dinner with the actor and host Bonnie Hunt. "Dinner was great," Ms. Dempsey effuses. "Bonnie and Joe were easy to talk to, and you could tell they were passionate about their causes, which meant a lot to Kevin and me." 

s members of the NBTI advisory board, Ms. Dempsey and Mr. Hitzeman are personally devoted and closely involved as well, providing support and guidance to a team of clinicians, surgeons, scientists, nurses, and staff who have made great strides in treatment, research knowledge, and perspectives in patient care. "For us, the most important aspect — whether spending time or money — is to be emotionally tied to our cause," Ms. Dempsey says. "To know where your donations are going and to be involved allows you to truly see the impact of what you support."