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When Everyone Survives: One Family's Mission to Cure Leukemia

For Bill and Claire Smith, it seemed only natural to commit to the fight against leukemia after losing their son, Wes, to the disease at twenty-two. In fact, they knew that is exactly what Wes, described as an incredible friend and a confident fighter, would have wanted them to do. Along with Wes’ brother Sean, Bill created When Everyone Survives (WES), a foundation that, at its very core, seeks to cure leukemia.

“We knew that God wouldn’t have had us go through the ordeal without giving us the obligation and mission to fund leukemia research so that some other parents may be spared the pain and tragedy we went through,” said Bill. “Life is not always exactly what you want it to be, and sometimes there is tragedy. But this foundation gives us the opportunity to make sure that tragedy doesn’t exist for everyone,” Sean added.

The connection between WES and Winship is special: not only did Wes receive his care at Winship, but four of Emory’s own physicians serve as the Medical Advisory Board for the Foundation. “I could not imagine having been anywhere else during treatment,” Bill said.

Edmund Waller, MD, PhD, FACP, a member of the WES advisory board, associate director of clinical research at Winship, and director of the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Center, said that “the Smith family’s focus has always been on curing leukemia, and they have attracted a world class group of investigators who have dedicated themselves to fulfilling that mission.” In addition to reviewing grants received by the foundation, Waller has recused himself from the Board at times to submit proposals of his own, paving the way for some of his work at Winship to be selected for support by WES grants through the foundation’s peer review process. “As a recipient of philanthropic funds from the WES Foundation, I am grateful for the truly critical seed funding they have provided for promising ideas with high potential,” he said.

What started as a gift to Winship from Wes’ lifetime savings has evolved into a foundation that has awarded nearly $1 million to investigators from around the world, including several gifts to Emory. Though the circumstances uniting Winship and the Smith family were not ideal, the relationship has certainly made a significant impact in cancer research. “We have this inextricable link between the Smiths and Emory,” said Bill. “I’m humbled by the work the doctors do for us.”