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Children’s Hospital receives $11 million from Wilder estate

by Lorenzo Benet
Gloria Swanson starred in Sunset Boulevard for director Billy Wilder.
Gloria Swanson starred in Sunset Boulevard for director Billy Wilder.

The estate of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Billy Wilder and his wife, Audrey, has made an $11 million gift to create an endowed chair of the Division of Neurosurgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC-affiliated Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

Funded by The Wilder Family Trust, the Billy and Audrey Wilder Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery will receive $5 million of the donation. In addition, $3 million will be dedicated to the new Billy and Audrey Wilder Endowment in Neurosurgery, a hospital clinical care program under the stewardship of Mark Krieger, chief of medical staff and head of the hospital’s Division of Neurosurgery.

“We are incredibly thankful and humbled by this donation from The Wilder Family Trust,” said Richard Cordova, president and CEO of CHLA. “This gift will impact the lives and future treatment of children diagnosed with life-threatening and often devastating diagnoses.”

CHLA also announced that $1.5 million of the remaining gift will be distributed to the endowed chair of the hospital’s newly established interdepartmental Neuro-Oncology Program under Jonathan Finlay, director of the CHLA Neural Tumors Program within the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases. In addition, $300,000 will be earmarked to complete the Hay Edward Baher Chair in Pediatric Rheumatology, which will be under the leadership of Andreas Reiff, chief of the Division of Rheumatology.

The remainder of the donation will go toward the hospital’s underfunded and unreimbursed programs that help more than 96,000 young patients treated each year at CHLA.

“This endowed chair will create a permanent philanthropic legacy in the hospital’s neurosurgery division, allowing us to provide the best care for our young patients,” Krieger said. “It will also support outstanding research scientists working to find cures for children diagnosed with brain tumors here at Children’s Hospital, and beyond.”

The Wilders were longtime supporters of the hospital. Audrey, an actress in te 1940s who died in June, managed the family’s philanthropic activities and was passionate about giving back to children’s causes and the arts. She met Billy on the set of The Lost Weekend, a 1944 film that led to the first of his two Oscars for directing. They wed five years later.

The Austrian-born Wilder, who died in 2002, received international recognition as one the world’s great filmmakers.

His career as a Hollywood writer, director and producer spanned five decades, and his acclaimed films included Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment. Wilder became the first person to win three Oscars in one night when 1960’s The Apartment earned awards for directing, producing and co-writing. In all, he won six Academy Awards and also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1988 and the National Medal of Arts in 1993.

Krieger, associate professor of surgery at the Keck School, came to CHLA in 2002, joining the Children’s Neuroscience Center. He performs more than 300 brain surgeries a year and cares for children with surgical diseases of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves, specializing in tumors of the central nervous system. He previously served as director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

According to Krieger, a portion of the gift will be directed toward the clinical care of the hospital’s pediatric patients being treated for brain tumors and for innovative treatments into functional neurosurgery, which includes surgical procedures for youngsters diagnosed with epilepsy. The hospital’s Division of Neurosurgery performs more than 500 surgeries each year.

Finlay, a leading international authority in the management of the brain tumors of children, adolescents and young adults, is a professor of pediatrics, neurology and neurological surgery at the Keck School. He will direct the $1.5 million gift toward research and education activities to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to treat brain cancer in children.

Reiff, professor of pediatrics at Keck School, has led the Division of Rheumatology at CHLA since 2005 and oversees the care of children with chronic arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. He has also investigated the treatment, management and genetics of autoimmune diseases. He will direct the gift toward departmental operations and clinical and research activities.

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