Continued philanthropy creates lasting change at Hackensack Meridian Health
Continued philanthropy creates lasting change at Hackensack Meridian Health

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For Mary Ellen Harris, the motivation behind her generosity to local hospitals affiliated with Hackensack Meridian Health is obvious: It’s what her late husband, Dr. Robert Harris, would have wanted.

Robert Harris, who donated to innovative medical advances, is widely known for creating a drug that controls epileptic seizures. He passed away in April 2017, but his name and legacy live on through donations across the state.

After his death, Mary Ellen Harris and her co-trustees, Judith Lawley, Col. Charles Grinnell, Paul Pettigrew and Michael Schwager of the Golden Dome Foundation, quietly and steadily oversaw the donation of more than $40 million to Hackensack Meridian Health Hospitals, including University Medical Center Jersey Shore in Neptune, Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel and Ocean University Medical Center in Brick.

“My husband has always been focused on emerging medical technologies and how they can be used to save more and more lives,” said Holmdel’s Harris. “So when the Golden Dome Foundation is asked to donate, I always ask the same question: How will this funding request have a positive impact on patients and their families?”

A look at the list of donations shows the foundation’s support for medical modernization, with millions of dollars contributed each year to Hackensack Meridian Health since 2018.

One of the most highly recognized donations was honored last September when Jersey Shore University Medical Center unveiled the ZAP-X Center for Noninvasive Neurosurgery, named for Harris and her husband. The device, which looks like a 21st-century space capsule and spans a large room, provides immediate treatment for brain tumors and other head and neck ailments.

Harris was introduced to Dr. Shabar Danish, chairman of neurosurgery at Jersey Shore, through the Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation. He explained how ZAP-X creates hundreds of radiation beams at a unique angle that ensure brain tumor patients can retain cognitive function.

The result? Lightning diagnosis of brain tumors as well as non-invasive treatment that is painless and does not require incisions. After outpatient procedures, patients can resume their normal activities on the same day of treatment.

Mary Ellen Harris with Dr. Shabar Danish in the ZAP-X machine, Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Mary Ellen Harris with Dr. Shabar Danish in the ZAP-X machine at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune. – PROVIDED BY JONATHAN JAFFE

What excites Harris is the fact that Jersey Shore is the only hospital in the Northeast that offers patients a ZAP-X machine. In addition, the hospital is the first in the country to offer high-tech head-only MRI and the only hospital in the world to combine the two innovative technologies.

After a presentation and another meeting, Harris was convinced. “I told Dr. Danish, ‘sure,'” she said. “I’d be glad to help. And now Jersey Shore offers the newest form of cranial radiosurgery to the entire world.”

Vito Buccellato, president and CEO of Jersey Shore Hospital, said that in the first eight weeks of ZAP-X use, the hospital provided radiosurgery to 30 patients, administering a total of 87 treatments. “This represents the most radiosurgery performed to date by any ZAP-X program worldwide in its first two months of operation,” he noted.

Just a quick tour of the hospitals shows the tremendous impact the Golden Dome Foundation has had as “Dr. Robert H. and Mary Ellen Harris” are prominently displayed throughout the buildings, emphasizing what hospital officials describe as “the tremendous gratitude we feel for you and your generosity.”

Dr. Bob's Treasure Chest in the kid-friendly pediatric wing of Bayshore Medical Center's emergency room.  The chest is named after Dr. Robert Harris, Mary Ellen's late husband, who is widely known for creating a drug that controls epileptic seizures.
Dr. Bob’s Treasure Chest in the kid-friendly pediatric wing of Bayshore Medical Center’s emergency room. The chest is named after Dr. Robert Harris, Mary Ellen’s late husband, who is widely known for creating a drug that controls epileptic seizures. – PROVIDED BY JONATHAN JAFFE

The impact is as significant as the expanded 32,000-square-foot emergency room at Bayshore Medical Center becoming “Dr. Robert H. Harris Urgent Care Center,” featuring the “Mary Ellen Harris Lobby.” Recognition at Bayshore even includes the specially designed “Dr. Bob’s Treasure Chest” in the emergency center’s kid-friendly pediatric wing, named for Harris’ parents, Jean and John Fay. The cart, which provides free toys for children, features a cartoon image of “Faye the Pirate Dog” in honor of Harris’ beloved dog.

Thanks to the Golden Dome Foundation, the hospital promises that the treasure chest will always be full of toys—from dolls to games to stuffed animals—for every child in the emergency room.

At Ocean University Medical Center, the new Dr. Robert H. and Mary Ellen Harris Heart and Vascular Center is twice the size of the hospital’s previous catheterization lab to keep up with the area’s growing population.

On the last day of February, Harris visited the Jersey Shore to meet with hospital management and doctors to learn about the impact of her ongoing philanthropy. She spent a lot of time with Danish and his team as they explained how ZAP-X technology is making a significant impact on Monmouth County patients, as well as people who travel from all over to benefit from the medical miracle.

During the visit, hospital officials provided a bulleted list of all the technology that has been purchased with more than $40 million in donations to date, such as computed tomography, high-intensity focused ultrasound, an epilepsy monitoring unit, MRI scanners, cardiac and vessel equipment and many, many other items and aids.

Dr. Kenneth Sable, regional president for Hackensack Meridian Health’s southern market, told Harris that her support ensures the hospital system offers the best health care within the communities it serves, raising the quality of medical care to levels, comparable to New York or Philadelphia-based University Hospitals.

“Your gifts make an incredible impact in enhancing our services, engaging physician experts and offering compassionate, state-of-the-art care to all who seek it,” Sable told Harris. “Thank you again for your part in making this all possible.”

Jonathan Jaffe is president and CEO of Jaffe Communications Inc. in Cranford. The firm worked for the Golden Dome Foundation.

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