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Hanna and Mark Gleiberman donated $12 million to UC San Diego Health for its head and neck cancer center, it was announced Thursday, and the center has been renamed in their honor.

Two years ago, Hanna walked into her doctor’s office with a sore in her mouth. She walked out with a diagnosis of an advanced, life-threatening form of tongue cancer. Soon thereafter, she would endure a 13-hour surgery to remove part of her tongue and jaw, subsequent complex reconstruction using bone from her leg and tissue from her arm, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She was told she would have speech and swallowing difficulties for the rest of her life.

“What she was facing was daunting,” said Hanna’s husband, Mark, founder and CEO of San Diego-based real estate investment firm MG Properties Group. “We were so lucky to have one of the world’s top head and neck cancer centers right here in our own backyard to help Hanna make an amazing recovery.”

Treatment of head and neck cancers requires teams of specialists who provide life-saving treatments tailored to preserve or recover the ability to speak, taste and swallow, as well as prevent or reduce disfigurement.

“It was extremely scary to be told I would never sound the same again and no guarantees were given on how well I would swallow and speak,” Hanna said.

For patients like Hanna, recovery involves working through multiple types of treatments to improve and optimize speech and swallowing. Hanna credits her healing and recovery not just to the skill of individual practitioners, but also to the coordination of complex therapies and the team- based care led by Dr. Joseph A. Califano, III, director of the newly named Hanna and Mark Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health.

With more than 90 staff dedicated to head and neck cancer treatment and research, the Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center cared for more than 13,000 patients in 2020, nearly double the number of patients just five years earlier.

Thus far in 2021, head and neck cancer research at Moores Cancer Center has received $14 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and $40 million in future committed funding from foundations and private philanthropy.

The Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center offers more than 20 active clinical trials, including advanced therapies developed by UCSD Health physician-scientists.

Hanna and Mark’s $12 million gift will support many areas within the Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center, including supporting innovative clinical trials for head and neck cancer treatment, building and growing a fellowship program, investing in junior faculty by creating start-up and retention packages and funding pilot projects, creating an endowed fund to provide seed support for research projects and providing services not covered by health insurance to those who cannot afford them.

–City News Service

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