$3 Million Gift to Establish Unique Pulmonary Program for Penn Medicine Patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and other Neurodegenerative Diseases

A $3 million gift from University of Pennsylvania alumnus Jay Fishman, and his wife, Randy, will support comprehensive at-home respiratory care for adult Penn Medicine patients with chronic respiratory insufficiency due to neurological, muscular, skeletal or chronic respiratory diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

The multidisciplinary Randy and Jay Fishman Program for Home Assisted Ventilation will reside within Penn’s Harron Lung Center as part of the division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn Medicine is partnering with The ALS Association to have the program recognized as an ALS Association-approved program in pulmonary care. Such a designation would be a first for a specific medical practice within the broad ALS clinical arena. The intent of the program is to deliver the benefits of rapidly emerging new technologies and related data to physicians caring for patients whose breathing is compromised.

“It is most fitting that Jay, who has had a tremendously positive impact as a long-time member of our Board of Trustees, would help Penn Medicine provide a service that will give meaningful hope to patients suffering from these very difficult symptoms,” said University President Amy Gutmann. “It demonstrates his deep commitment to the ALS and Penn Medicine communities by bringing comfort to so many.”

John Hansen-Flaschen, founding director of Penn Medicine’s Harron Lung Center, will lead the new program. “In the past, adults who lost the strength to breathe on their own died or required a tracheostomy for long-term mechanical ventilation. Most survivors lived away from home in specialized nursing facilities,” he said.

“Thanks to dramatic recent advances in clinical care and technology, many patients with diseases such as ALS and muscular dystrophy can now avoid tracheostomy and live at home,” said Dr. Hansen-Flaschen. “However, there are few specialized centers specifically devoted to the care of these patients in the United States. Now, through the exceptional generosity of the Fishmans, we will be able to help more people continue to breathe comfortably, speak, eat by mouth and live in their own homes.”

Working in close collaboration with neurologists who staff the Penn Comprehensive ALS Center and the Penn Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic, the physicians who lead the Home Assisted Ventilation Program will coordinate the efforts of a wide array of multidisciplinary specialists, including respiratory therapy, speech therapy, gastrointestinal medicine and surgery, nutrition, physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine. The Fishman Program will also focus on medical education, providing a one-year advanced fellowship training program in the care of adults who need home-assisted ventilation.

Mr. Fishman, executive chairman of the board and former chief executive officer of The Travelers Companies, Inc. and a member of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, was diagnosed with ALS in 2014. [Ed. Note: He passed away on August 19; see here.]

“I sought pulmonary treatment at Penn,” Mr. Fishman said, “and it was through my relationship with Dr. Hansen-Flaschen that I became excited by the opportunity to work with Penn Medicine in bringing the most recent technological advancements in non-invasive ventilation therapy to the ALS community. John’s commitment, passion and thoughtfulness to help patients ‘lean into’ these difficult diseases is remarkable. Randy and I are privileged to support his vision.”

The new program will also benefit patients with other respiratory-related diseases—including muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, thoracic skeletal disorders and advanced chronic lung disease.

“By bringing comfort to these patients in their homes, the Fishmans are giving them a remarkable gift,” said Ralph W. Muller, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “The significance of their advocacy on behalf of so many patients is extraordinary.”

“With great selflessness and compassion, Randy and Jay have taken their own personal challenge and turned it into something positive that will impact thousands of patients,” said J. Larry Jameson, dean of the Perelman School of Medicine and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System. “New technology for the complex area of pulmonary medicine is emerging very quickly. These wonderful resources will allow Penn Medicine to maintain its position as a leading expert in both the Philadelphia region and around the world.”