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Hollywood legends Billy, Audrey Wilder give back to kids at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Audrey and Billy Wilder







By Lorenzo Benet

Keck School of Medicine-affiliated Children's Hospital Los Angeles announced Dec. 20, 2012 that the estate of the legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker Billy Wilder and his wife Audrey made an $11 million gift to the hospital’s new endowed chair in the Division of Neurosurgery and to the hospital’s Endowment in Neurosurgery.

In honor of the generous gift from The Wilder Family Trust, the hospital will name the new Neurosurgery chair the Billy and Audrey Wilder Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery, which 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 Chief of Medical Staff Mark Krieger, M.D., head of the hospital’s Neurosurgery division. 

Of the remaining gift, $1.5 million is to be distributed to the endowed chair of the hospital’s newly-established inter-departmental Neuro-Oncology Program under the direction of Jonathan Finlay, M.D., director of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles 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, MD, chief of the Division of Rheumatology. The remaining donation will go toward the hospital’s under-funded and unreimbursed hospital programs that help the more than 96,000 young patients Children’s Hospital Los Angeles treats annually. 

“We are incredibly thankful and humbled by this donation from The Wilder Family Trust," said Richard D. Cordova, FACHE, president and CEO of Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "This generous and amazing gift will impact the lives and future treatment of children diagnosed with life-threatening and often devastating diagnoses. As our chief of Medical Staff and our division chief of Neurosurgery, Dr. Krieger has demonstrated the leadership ability to utilize this gift to the utmost in the treatment and care of our patients and to strengthen and build our world renowned Neurosurgery division."

"I am honored and thrilled by this incredible gift from The Wilder Family Trust, one that will change the lives of many patients we treat at Children's Hospital Los Angeles," said Krieger. "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. It will also support outstanding research scientists working to find cures for children diagnosed with brain tumors here at Children's Hospital, and beyond."

Billy and Audrey Wilder were longtime supporters of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Mrs. Wilder, a Paramount actress in the 1940s, managed the family’s philanthropic activities. She was especially interested in the hospital’s undertakings and passionate about giving back to children’s causes and the arts. Mrs. Wilder, who passed away in June, was married to Mr. Wilder for 53 years. She was a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band and appeared in several films in the 1940s. In 1944, she met Mr. Wilder on the set of "The Lost Weekend," a film that garnered Mr. Wilder the first of his two film directing Oscars. They wed five years later.

The Austrian-born Billy Wilder received international recognition as one the world’s great filmmakers. His Hollywood career as a writer, director and producer spanned five decades, and his work included such popular classics as Sabrina and Some Like It Hot, and Oscar-winners, like Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment and The Lost Weekend. Renowned for his ability to cross film genres, Wilder became the first individual to win three Oscars in one night when The Apartment (1960) earned the filmmaker awards for directing, producing and co-writing. In all, he won six Academy Awards and also earned the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1988, and later, the National Medal of Arts, which he won in 1993 nine years before his passing in 2002. 

Krieger came to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles 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 was the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, Krieger completed his training in Neurological Surgery at the USC Department of Neurological Surgery. 

He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and numerous book chapters, in addition to giving more than 100 talks at national meetings. He is active in the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, American Association of Neurosurgeons and the American Society for Pediatric Neurosurgeons. His research interests include novel therapeutic strategies and imaging technologies for pediatric brain tumors. Krieger is an associate professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). 

According to Krieger, a portion of the gift devoted to the Endowment in Neurosurgery 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 annually. “This gift will enable us to build on our reputation as one of the finest pediatric brain tumor clinical programs and neurosurgery research centers in the country,” Krieger says. 

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 of Medicine of USC. 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. The Neuro-Oncology endowed chair will work in collaboration with the hospital’s divisional and departmental chiefs in Neurosurgery, Pathology and Radiology.

Reiff, a professor of Pediatrics at Keck School of Medicine, has led the Rheumatology division at Children’s Hospital since 2005 and oversees the care of children with chronic arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. An avid researcher, Reiff, who earned his medical degree from University Medical School in Freiburg, Germany, has also investigated the treatment, management and genetics of autoimmune diseases and is well-known internationally as an authority on biologic drug development and the treatment of chronic inflammatory eye diseases. He will direct the gift toward departmental operations and clinical and research activities.
 
To give to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, go to CHLA.org/Donate, or donate to the Holiday of Hope challenge by Dec. 31 at CHLA.org/Holiday, and ask friends to do the same. 

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