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Gratitude Through Giving

A male doctor in white coat grasps the hand of a female patient

How do you thank a physician who saved your life not once but twice?

A little more than 10 years ago, Judith Engel was diagnosed with tongue dysplasia, an abnormal growth of cells. She was treated in New York, but several years later, the problem resurfaced.

But now it was cancer.

Judith and Steven Engels
Judith and Steven Engel

Judith and husband Steven were living in South Florida and came to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Francisco Civantos, M.D., a Sylvester faculty member and chief of the Head and Neck Division in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, treated Judith.

“Dr. Civantos had to remove half of Judith’s tongue,” Steven said. “A few days after the surgery, she had an artery rupture in her neck and the team, led by Dr. Zoukaa Sargi, had to act very quickly to save Judith’s life. We felt we had to thank everyone for what they did.”

The Engels, who both grew up in Miami Beach, initially made a $50,000 gift to the UHealth Champions Program at the medical school. Unfortunately, that would not be the end of Judith’s treatment. Just six months ago, they discovered the cancer spread to her jaw.

“Judith underwent very extensive surgery with Dr. Civantos, during which they found the cancer was not confined to her jaw but had spread to other areas of her neck,” said Steven. “We felt we wanted to express our gratitude further, but we also wanted to do something that would influence one day finding a cure for this type of cancer.”

Supporting Early-in-Career Research

The Engels made another $50,000 gift to create the Judith and Steven Engel Research and Education Endowment in Head and Neck Surgery. Under the direction of Dr. Civantos, the funds will provide research opportunities and advanced training in surgical specialties of the head and neck for medical students, residents and fellows.

“Mrs. Engel is one of the bravest patients I have ever treated, as she has beaten four different primary tumors of the mouth, submitted to surgeries that would be scary to any of us, survived complications and, most importantly, somehow she and her husband have stayed completely positive throughout the process,” said Dr. Civantos, the Virginia M. Horner Endowed Chair in Head and Neck Oncology Research. “I am humbled that they would give so much credit to our team at Sylvester through this generous gift.”

The Engels both felt that supporting research and education for intelligent young minds would be a great way to fund a cure for cancer. Dr. Civantos agrees.

“If you look back, most major medical discoveries of the last 50 years involved research by those in training,” he said. “This gift will provide the seeds for many new projects. I thank the Engels from the bottom of my heart.”

Staying with Sylvester

The Engels have been married 54 years and have four grandchildren. Steven earned his law degree from the University of Miami and spent decades in real estate banking in Miami and around the world. His son, Adam, also attended law school at UM.

They recently left South Florida for Connecticut. Even though the Engels live far away now, Sylvester is where they will come if Judith requires further treatment.

“Dr. Civantos saved my life twice,” said a grateful Judith. “The care I got, the confidence that care gave me as a patient, I would never go to anyone else or anywhere else if my cancer came back again.”

Tags: Francisco J. Civantos, philanthropy, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center