A Remarkable Gift, By Robert L. DuPont, M.D.
The Kolmac Foundation started as the direct result of a remarkable gift from Joanne, my patient for many years. Joanne was a distinguished senior physician who worked in both clinical medicine and research during a highly productive public health career. As her psychiatrist I worked with her on two extremely painful problems, Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Dependence. Joanne, smart and proud as she was, was cut down by her alcoholism. She was one of the most miserable alcoholics I ever knew and one of the most chronic. After years of entreaties I got her to go to one of the nation’s premier residential treatment programs for 30 days. She came out in apparent good shape, returning to see me and ready to begin work in Alcoholics Anonymous. Because of her heart wrenching story and attractive personality, a national journalist had picked out Joanne for a profile of how addiction treatment works. Those high hopes blew up when Joanne relapsed within a month of discharge from her treatment program.
Over the next three years Joanne suffered. She tried to get to meetings, failing each time. She never missed work but her work performance was dismal, leading to ever-falling self-esteem. Because she was such an outstanding scientist her job never seemed to be in jeopardy. When she hit her last, awful bottom, she surrendered. She accepted, finally, my recommendation that this time she enter intensive outpatient treatment at the Kolmac Clinic. Her reaction to Kolmac was instantaneous. She loved her group and everyone in it. She especially took to her therapist. She stayed with Kolmac on a weekly basis for more than three years. For years after that she kept in touch with her therapist. She knew where to give credit for her recovery: Kolmac had saved her life.
Joanne was diagnosed with inoperable cancer when she was about 60. At that point, far from giving up or feeling sorry for herself, she settled into therapy filled with a new determination. While not rich, having spent her life working for the government in various senior public health roles, Joanne wanted to use the money she had saved for one purpose, and one purpose only: to help other addicted people who otherwise could not afford it make use of Kolmac’s care. We endlessly discussed how she could use her gift to not only make Kolmac treatment more widely available, but also how she could leverage her gift to help more patients at Kolmac stick with the program long enough to develop new lives free of alcohol and drug use. It was in those discussions in my office that the idea for the Kolmac Foundation was born.
I have proudly become the President of the Foundation, a role I welcome for many reasons, including my profound respect for the unique addiction treatment program that has been serving the community over the past three decades. But there is more to my reason for taking this job than even that. It also gives me a chance to contribute to the dream started by Joanne, a woman I will never forget. As a drinking alcoholic her suffering was as severe as any I have seen and, partly for that reason, her recovery was a wonderful blessing not only for Joanne, but also for everyone who knew her.
Although Joanne has passed on, her experience, strength, and hope live on in the Kolmac Foundation. I am glad of that. I know Joanne is, too.