A Family’s Gift—and Employer’s Match—Aims to Extend Life for Patients with Brain Cancer

Salvino Family

Seated from left are family members of the late James Salvino, including his daughters Jennifer Feeney and Theresa Salvino, his son Mike Salvino and his wife Dawn Salvino. Standing from left are Vinay Puduvalli, MBBS, and J. Bradley Elder, MD. Not pictured is James’ daughter Chris Garcia.

Vinay Puduvalli, MD, encountered his first patient with brain cancer soon after finishing medical school, while working in a hospital in his native India. She was a woman in her early 30s, a new mother. After surgery did not help, and with limited treatment options, he recalls, “I had to walk in to inform her and the family that there was little left to do. It made a lasting impression on me.”

The encounter left Puduvalli with a strong desire to do research in addition to clinical work, leading him to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and then to the OSUCCC – James, where he serves as head of the Division of Neuro-oncology.

Recently, Puduvalli and J. Bradley Elder, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery, treated a patient with the same type of aggressive brain tumor from which the woman back in India had suffered: 77-year-old James Salvino, a longtime Worthington, Ohio, resident, active Rotarian, Corvette aficionado and family patriarch. Despite the unfortunate outcome—James Salvino passed away from his cancer this past February—the connection he and his family forged with Puduvalli and Elder and the incredibly positive experience they had with OSUCCC – James inspired them to create the Salvino Family & Accenture Brain Cancer Research Fund.

The family’s fund, matched by a gift from Accenture, where James’ son Mike serves as group chief executive of Accenture Operations and oversees 88,000 employees, will create an educational opportunity for a neurosurgery fellow to study with Elder and a postdoctoral student to work alongside Puduvalli in his brain tumor research lab.

“In situations like those that the Salvinos experienced, so many people understandably want to just walk away,” says Puduvalli. “It takes a special kind of commitment and perspective to not only not turn away, but to pitch in and help in the effort to ensure that this doesn’t happen anymore.”

The gift, Puduvalli notes, is a fitting tribute to the memory of a man who accomplished so much running Dictation Office Products Company (DOPCO), his business of 25 years, and through his service to the Columbus community. “Mr. Salvino and his family were an enormous inspiration to the medical team,” says Puduvalli. “His legacy will live on in the work of the next generation of scientists who will be supported by this fund and through the impact of their research on patients with brain tumors.”

Moving the Line Toward Survival

There is no cure at this time for glioblastoma, the rapidly growing type of brain tumor James Salvino had, but researchers at OSUCCC – James are working to extend patient survival time. “If you do nothing, average survival may be only a few months,” says Elder. “If you do radiation, you can usually get survival to six to nine months. With surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, you can get a healthy patient to about 15 months from diagnosis. Our role is to optimize and increase the patient’s life span.”

Elder calls it “moving the line.”

“We want, five years from now, to be able to say, ‘The line was 15 months and now it’s 30.’ Any little nudge we can get—anything we can do that tells us where or where not to push the line—every little bit helps.”

The Salvino Family & Accenture Brain Cancer Research Fund will help move the line, with Ohio State medical student Christopher Hong selected to be Elder’s first neurosurgery student through the fund. Hong will focus on genetic abnormalities in brain tumors, which may provide insight into how best to direct treatment.

Prerana Jha, a researcher from India meanwhile, is the first recipient of the postdoctoral fellowship from the Salvino Family & Accenture Brain Cancer Research Fund and will investigate “glioma resistance”.  Explains Puduvalli, “Most cancers get better for a while as they are treated, and then the tumor comes back for reasons we don’t fully understand.” Jha’s research will examine cells’ resistance to radiation and chemotherapy and the role that microRNA play in that process. “This is an unexplored boundary for brain tumors that may potentially lead to finding new targets for treatment.”  Puduvalli notes that such a fellowship opportunity that can train several individuals like Jha over time can draw highly trained and committed fellows to doing research in the field of brain tumors spreading the impact of the fund. “The fund will go a long way to bring the best of trainees to the OSUCCC – James and launch careers committed to the fight against brain tumors.”

Beyond enabling unprecedented research, the Salvino Family & Accenture Brain Cancer Research Fund will help to inspire students to dedicate their careers to brain cancer research, says Elder, who benefitted from a similar donor-created fellowship as a student at Columbia University. “I want this to be the spark that inspires students to do more work in this area.”

Caring for One Another, Making a Difference for Others

Like the doctors who cared for his father, Mike Salvino is passionate about moving the line. While helping his family through his father’s illness—including flying from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Columbus weekly—he thought hard about the disease and how his family could make a difference. Already through their 5MPOWER® foundation and personally, Mike, Denise and their family regularly give philanthropically to charitable causes in the Charlotte area, with a particular focus on bladder cancer research

“When my dad became sick, I realized that like bladder cancer, this is another cancer that people don’t know a lot about, and so not a lot of money is donated toward it—despite it being such an aggressive cancer,” he says. 

During James Salvino’s final days, father and son talked about the importance of making a difference philanthropically.

“He really liked Dr. Puduvalli and Dr. Elder,” Mike Salvino says of his father. “My dad was a big people person, and once he liked you, you were ‘in.’ He was very supportive of the idea of setting up a fund, and it was just classic my dad—he didn’t want the thing named after him. He wanted it to be named for his family.”

The Salvino family’s care for one another during this time did not go unnoticed by the OSUCCC – James team. “If there is one thing that really helps a patient besides surgery, chemotherapy and radiation,” says Elder, “it’s family support. The Salvinos exemplify what we like to see to maximize care. Mike, his mother Dawn, and sisters Chris, Theresa and Jennifer were all completely there for Mr. Salvino.”

And, says Salvino, OSUCCC – James was there for his family. “There was not a time I ever thought we weren’t getting the best care. The empathy they showed to my mom was outstanding. There wasn’t a time they didn’t meet with her that they didn’t give her a hug.”

Accenture Augments the Impact

On its own, the $100,000 gift from the Salvino family would make a significant difference to brain cancer research at Ohio State. But thanks to a robust matching gift program at Accenture—a more than 323,000-employee strong organization that is one of the world’s leading companies, providing management consulting, technology and outsourcing services—the fund will have twice the impact.

At Accenture, corporate citizenship is central the company’s core values and vision to improve the way the world works and lives. Employees at Accenture bring the same passion to community service that they do to client service, and the company has a goal to equip more than three million people around the globe with the skills to get a job or build a business, through its Skills to Succeed initiative.

“The people we hire generally enjoy giving back, so anything we can do to accelerate and empower them in that effort is a good thing,” says Brad Borders, the company’s liaison to The Ohio State University, which is one of the Accenture’s top universities for recruiting its future workforce.

“We are very proud of this gift,” Border says. “The company giving to brain cancer research is one of those things that makes you proud you work for Accenture, and we want it to have the biggest impact possible.”

Salvino and Accenture hope the fund will grow to $1 million through contributions from those who care about advancing brain cancer research. Gifts to the fund can be made by visiting the fund's webpage.

“I’m not a doctor, but I can help others to come up with a solution,” says Mike Salvino. “We can all help.”