By Molly Williamson
A true outpouring of human support — that is how Sen. Reggie Thomas described the treatment his wife received at the Markey Cancer Center. As she battled uterine cancer, alumna Lynda Morris Thomas was surrounded by people who cared about her and were invested in her recovery.
“Everyone was so supportive of Lynda — she received outstanding care from the doctors and nurses — and they made her treatment more bearable,” Thomas said. “Everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer. They know the effects of cancer and the harm it can do to someone physically, mentally and emotionally. I never want someone else to have to watch their wife, child, parent or loved one suffer and die because of the ravages of cancer.”
Their experience with Markey motivated the family to give back. In June, Thomas, his daughter Johanna Thomas, and his mother-in-law Johanna Morris Wood partnered with the University of Kentucky to support research. Their gift will support the Healthy Kentucky Research Building, a new facility on campus where teams of researchers are tackling problems disproportionately affecting Kentuckians, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, diabetes and obesity, and substance abuse.
“The research UK conducts will have an impact nationally and globally,” Johanna Thomas said. “But it will have an even greater impact locally. For years, Kentucky has led the nation in cancer deaths. We want to support our home state and alleviate suffering for Kentuckians and families worldwide.”
Eradicating cancer and solving complex health problems are major goals of Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign. The university’s $2.1 billion comprehensive campaign focuses on improving opportunities for students, advancing health care and funding innovative research, allowing UK to assemble more research teams, attract talented faculty members and raise $95 million to support the research building. It also strengthens the UK HealthCare system, enabling it to remain the top hospital in the state and nationally ranked in four health care specialties.
UK is already a leader in cancer care. The Markey Cancer Center has been named in the Top 50 national rankings by U.S. News and World Report for cancer care at No. 33. It is the only cancer center in Kentucky designated by the National Cancer Institute, and it collaborates with health care networks across the state to provide world-class care to Kentucky residents in their own communities.
One of its goals is to care for the whole person, treating patients’ physical, mental and familial needs, which was evident in Lynda’s treatment, Johanna said.
“The doctors and nurses were very supportive during this difficult time,” she said. “They gave my mother a lot of comfort and peace. She always spoke fondly of how caring and respectful everyone was.”
Thomas especially appreciated President Eli Capilouto and Michael Karpf, professor of medicine and former executive vice president for health affairs, regularly visiting Lynda.
The Healthy Kentucky Research Building is special to Thomas, whose district includes UK. Working with his colleagues in the General Assembly, Thomas helped secure funding for the project in 2015.
“When President (Eli) Capilouto came to the General Assembly asking for $132.5 million in state funding, we all recognized the need for the building,” Thomas said. “Kentucky has very poor health rankings. We are last or second to last in most areas. We want to change that, and we know this building can help.”
Since he was elected, Thomas has fought to improve health care and to provide health care to all Kentuckians.
“Anyone who is sick and needs care should have access to it,” Thomas said. “We should do everything we can to prevent people from suffering. When I look at the way UK and the Markey Cancer Center treated Lynda, it shows that they care about what the patient is going through. I hope everyone can have the same level of care that Lynda experienced.”
In honor of the gift, a collaborative space on the third floor of the Healthy Kentucky Research Building will be named for Lynda, a fitting tribute to a die-hard Wildcat and proud Lexington resident, Thomas said.
A native of Washington, D.C., Lynda moved to Lexington after meeting Thomas in college. She went to Wellesley College, and he attended Dartmouth. After getting married in 1980, they moved to Lexington, Thomas’ hometown.
A devoted community servant, Lynda joined the boards of the Lexington Public Library, the Lexington Children’s Museum and the Lexington Philharmonic. She earned her master’s in communication in 1991 from UK and taught communications classes as an adjunct professor for four years, then joined KET, where she developed continuing education programs for teachers.
“She was well read, socially engaged and loved a good book and good conversation,” Thomas said. “She valued education, because she wanted everyone around her to continually strive to become better, wiser people. She would be honored that her memory will live in perpetuity at UK and that her name will be associated with helping to find a cure for cancer.”
Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign is a comprehensive campaign focused on increasing opportunities for student success, funding innovative research, improving health care, strengthening our alumni network, and supporting our athletic programs.