Mary H. Weiser has watched in terror as her child was gripped by a severe allergic reaction after she ingested a simple food that most of us eat on a daily basis.
It's a moment that the Ann Arbor, Michigan, resident will never forget, and one she'd never wish on anyone. In the hope that families living with food allergy will have better treatment options, Mary Weiser has become a passionate, tireless advocate for a path toward cures and dedicated herself to activism for the cause.
"When she was just a year old, I fed my daughter a bite of egg and she immediately slumped in her high chair and soon began vomiting. We found out she was allergic to multiple foods and since then have discovered additional food allergies after several terrifying, severe reactions that sent us to the emergency room," says Mary Weiser, who has served as chair of the U-M Food Allergy Center's advisory board. Weiser's son also has been diagnosed with multiple food allergies.
"I want my kids to have the same opportunities that everyone wants for their children, and I know that in some ways, their lives will always be different. As their parent, I am committed to helping make their lives better and as an advocate, I'm also committed to improving the lives of the 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies."
To honor Mary Weiser's advocacy, the U-M Food Allergy Center will now be named the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center and the Weiser family is also making significant financial commitments to the U-M Food Allergy Center. Ambassador Ronald N. Weiser (BBA '66) and Eileen L. Weiser (MMus '75) are directing $9.5 million from their recently announced $50 million campaign contribution. In addition, Mary and her husband Marc A. Weiser (BSE '95) (MBA '00) will provide $500,000, bringing the family's total gift to the Food Allergy Center to $10 million.
Ambassador Weiser said: "We hope that this gift will have a positive impact on this epidemic of food allergies. We hope it also encourages others to support the university, as we have."
"In every conceivable aspect, food allergy is on the rise," says James R. Baker Jr., M.D., director of the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center at the University of Michigan Health System. Today, nearly 8 percent of children in the U.S. - two kids in every kindergarten class - have a food allergy, nearly double the rate since 2007.
The number of children with a life-threatening peanut allergy has tripled in less than a decade, and more children are suffering acute reactions to food at younger ages. Food allergies send 300,000 children to the emergency room every year.
"This disease can affect anyone and recently we are seeing children develop food allergies even when they don't have a family history. Overall, 15 million people now struggle to manage this disease every day. This is, in many ways, an unrecognized epidemic and there's very little science on the foundations of this disease," Baker says.
"That's why this generous financial support from the Weisers and the tireless advocacy of Mary Weiser is so important. It truly will help us improve the diagnosis and treatment of food allergy."
The center plans to use this gift to perform cutting-edge research into the pathogenesis and treatment and become a national center for information and public policy surrounding food allergy. A gift signing ceremony is scheduled for May 28.
In December 2014, the university announced a $50 million gift from Ron and Eileen Weiser to the university's Victors for Michigan campaign. The gift supported the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; the School of Education; the Athletic Department; the U-M Health System; the University Musical Society; and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. A substantial part of the gift was to be designated at a future time. This commitment now designates an additional impact area of that gift.
"We are proud to support the University of Michigan's efforts to expand access for specialized care in food allergy, and to help create a national destination for patients with nowhere else to turn. Our own family knows the fear and challenges that go along with making sure a loved one with a food allergy stays safe," says Ron Weiser, who along with Eileen Weiser, are vice chairs of the Victors for Michigan Campaign Leadership Board.
"This gift truly will make the difference in the lives of so many people around the world and is an illustration of how financial support for research can have a direct impact in improving human health," says Baker.