Oklahoma City’s Stark Family Foundation on Tuesday announced a $1.5 million challenge grant to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The gift will fund patient care and research at the OMRF Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence.
The grant requires the foundation to raise a matching $1.5 million. OMRF will use the funds from the $3 million campaign to recruit a new physician-scientist to the MS Center, expand psychosocial care for its patients and grow the center’s technological infrastructure.
“The Stark family is making an indelible mark on the future of MS care in Oklahoma and on research worldwide,” said Gabriel Pardo, M.D., a neurologist and neuro-ophthalmologist who has led OMRF’s MS Center since it opened in 2011. “Their generous gift will not only improve the lives of our patients, but it will also help us achieve our ultimate goal of stopping this terrible disease.”
MS is an autoimmune condition that affects nearly 1 million Americans. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the insulating layer that protects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The resulting inflammation can cause vision issues, muscle spasms, tremors and paralysis. In its most common form, the disease includes periods of stability and relapse.
Stark Family Foundation founders Jack and Mary Stark made the challenge grant in honor of their daughter, Kelsey D’Emilio, who was diagnosed with MS in 2013 at age 24. Despite aggressive treatments, D’Emilio experienced rapid disease progression until finding OMRF’s MS Center of Excellence in 2017.
Pardo, OMRF physician-scientist Chelsea Berkley, M.D., and their team at the MS Center care for more than 3,000 patients from Oklahoma and surrounding states. In addition to receiving comprehensive MS care, patients may participate in clinical trials or join cohorts that allow OMRF scientists studying MS to advance the global understanding of the disease.
“Dr. Pardo and his outstanding team gave Kelsey her life back. There can be no greater gift,” said Mary Stark. “We want everyone facing MS to have access to the same life-saving care and treatment our daughter found at OMRF.” Jack Stark added, “These funds will allow Dr. Pardo to expand his resources to meet the needs of his growing patient base. We are honored to help and we encourage others to join us so more stories of success like Kelsey’s can be told.”
The gift was announced during OMRF’s MS Advocate Award Dinner, which raised more than $410,000 for MS care and research at the foundation. The Chickasaw Nation and Stark Family Foundation were lead sponsors of the event chaired by Lou and Jim Morris.
Also during the dinner, OMRF honored Burns Hargis with the foundation’s MS Advocate Award. Hargis, a member of OMRF’s Board of Directors, is the former president of Oklahoma State University. He has been an OMRF supporter for nearly 40 years.
“Dr. Pardo and his team are remarkable, but it’s clear that the demand for MS patient care and research exceeds the current capacity to provide it,” Hargis said. “You solve that by raising awareness of the need for additional medical and scientific resources, and I’m honored to be a part of that.”
To learn more about MS care at OMRF or to donate, visit www.omrf.org/ms.