Paul Seifert

The Gift of Good Health

By Paul Seifert

Early on the afternoon of October 4th, Mike Klag and I were having lunch at the Hopkins hospital cafeteria when he said, "Uh-oh."

The night before, my wife, Shelley, had given birth to twins. So between my joy and lack of sleep, I was a little slow to respond. Before I could ask what was wrong, he had leapt from his chair and was helping a woman a few tables away who was choking. He gave her the Heimlich maneuver a few times and eventually dislodged the food caught in her throat, saving her life. Though we said later that the Hopkins hospital cafeteria is probably one of the best places in the world for this to happen, I will always remember that the dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health was the first to help.

The moment also serves as an indelible reminder to never take good health for granted. Perhaps too often in life, we have to learn that lesson. My first wife, Claire, bravely battled cancer for 16 years before succumbing to it. In my previous position as senior vice president for Gift Planning at ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., I witnessed parents' anguish as they brought their desperately sick children for the kind of care available to too few people in the world. And now as a new dad at age 54, I have a fresh perspective on health and life. Every day, my wife and my children, Madeleine and Austin, remind me what a gift good health is—even if it is a fragile one.

As you've probably gathered by now, I am the Bloomberg School's new associate dean for External Affairs. To serve this institution—the world's largest, oldest and best school of public health—is a great honor and the pinnacle of a career working for nonprofit organizations. From working for a home for emotionally disturbed children to leading fund-raising efforts at Georgetown University Law Center and later at St. Jude, nonprofits are all I have ever known. I am not overly altruistic. I am not out to save the world. But like so many of you, I am deeply motivated by the desire to make the world a better place and to help those who are less fortunate. I can think of no better place to accomplish this goal than the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Sylvia Eggleston Wehr, my inimitable predecessor, built a remarkable fund-raising and communications operation during her 22 years at the School. Improving on that tradition will be difficult, but it can be done—with the help of alumni, faculty, staff, students, current and new donors, trustees and members of the Health Advisory Board and other advisory committees.

We have 14 months left to complete the Knowledge for the World campaign. Thus far, we have raised $412 million toward our $500 million goal. The goal, of course, is not the dollars, but what the dollars will help us achieve. Those funds will allow us to help students who otherwise could not attend this School, to recruit the best and the brightest faculty, to encourage the most innovative research, and to train professionals in the best methods of public health practice.

In the months and years ahead, I look forward to working with each of you to help support this School's quest to bring better health to the world.