For Jeffrey Libert, a real estate developer, grateful New England Baptist Hospital patient, and NEBH Trustee from Cambridge, MA, back pain was part of everyday life. As a former competitive tennis player (who was team captain and regionally ranked as a player at Amherst College), he battled chronic back pain and repeat injuries that took far longer than expected to heal.
“People said, ‘This is normal; kids get sidelined because of injury.’ But I just kept getting injured—it felt like I was the most injured guy I knew,” he says. Jeffrey turned to NEBH after unsuccessful surgeries elsewhere and has been relying on NEBH for musculoskeletal care ever since. “Finally, in my 50s, my physician, along with doctors at NEBH, said, ‘I think there’s something else going on with you.’”
And there was. Jeffrey was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that affects the connective tissues, particularly the joints. For Jeffrey, this diagnosis connected the dots to make sense of his lifelong struggles with frequent injuries and chronic back pain that resulted in five back surgeries and one knee surgery. In addition, despite hard work at physical therapy and in the gym, his healing and recovery timelines are far longer than normal, which is typical of patients with with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. He was also diagnosed with arthritis early in life, which is a common complication of the disorder.
“I’ve had to struggle with musculoskeletal issues for most of my life, and the Baptist has helped me manage and live well despite them,” Jeffrey says. “This hospital has also helped my brother, my mother, my daughter, and my son, and I am deeply grateful.”
Jeffrey says his family members’ and his own lifelong issues with back pain and the expert care he receives at New England Baptist inspired him to make gifts totaling more than $5 million to support research and education programs focused on the spine, including the family’s most recent $3 million gift to establish the Libert Family Spine Institute.
“I think it’s a little bit selfish to invest philanthropically in something that affects you, and I was thinking seriously about giving this gift anonymously because that’s our family’s culture. But I felt it was important to make this gift in my family’s name in the hope that future generations will support ongoing research at the new Institute,” says Jeffrey.
“I wanted to help create something that would keep people from suffering like I have. The Libert Family Spine Institute is going to be something that my family will eventually benefit from, too. It’s really heart-breaking to see people with back pain; it can really sideline you for a large portion of your life and keep you from doing the things you want to do. I am excited to be part of an effort to change this.”
New Insights into Back Pain
Over the last several decades, NEBH has established its reputation as a premier center for patients suffering from back pain. With exceptional spine surgeons, physiatrists, and physical therapists, NEBH has produced revolutionary approaches to caring for the spine, including novel nonsurgical treatment based in physical therapy; surgical techniques; and rehabilitation protocols.
Each year, New England Baptist Hospital successfully cares for thousands of patients suffering from both acute and chronic back pain.
“Clinicians in our Spine Center have improved outcomes for patients with chronic back pain and disability, but because the spine is so complex, we can and must do better,” says James Rainville, MD, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation. “The field is still an area of tremendous need and opportunity in medicine.”
Too few patients have their pain resolved after physical therapy or surgery, Dr. Rainville explains, and too many patients have difficulty navigating what can often be a complex system of health care.
“Additionally, too few primary care physicians are sufficiently trained in the second most common patient complaint—back pain—to offer a treatment path for their patients,” he says.
The Libert Family Spine Institute will advance clinical, educational, and research initiatives with a goal of enhancing outcomes for patients with spine disorders. Priorities of the new institute will include a clinical and educational program for primary care providers, training them to effectively serve as the first line of defense when a patient presents with back pain, and clinical research aimed at improving outcomes with a particular focus on predictive analytics—a new approach to leveraging vast amounts of patient data collected and organized in NEBH’s patient data registry.
With this new ability, caregivers could potentially use newfound knowledge to recommend the best treatment strategy with better clarity as to the predicted outcome. The goal is to provide precision medicine: the right care for the right patient at the right time and place.
“A lot of progress has been made in revolutionizing other areas of orthopedic care, like joint replacement, but the spine is more complex as a system; back pain has many root causes, the spine is very complicated, and outcomes after back pain interventions, like surgery, are historically less successful,” says Scott Tromanhauser, MD, chief of spine surgery, chief medical quality officer, and director of research administration.
“The focus of the Libert Family Spine Institute will be to conduct the research, educational, and clinical programming that will ultimately transform spine care in the future, and while we’re working toward that goal, improve the outcomes for a whole host of people in need of spine care services today.”
Keep Moving Forward
Jeffrey credits NEBH with getting him back to living a full life and wants his gift to ensure other back pain sufferers have the same chance.
“I am delighted that we are the best spine and orthopedic hospital in New England and that I not only have the chance to support this new Institute but to be involved with the physicians in setting the strategy,” says Jeffrey.
“New England Baptist Hospital is in the midst of a transformation, and although we don’t know what the future will look like, I think it’s important to keep moving forward, keep pushing research, keep improving outcomes. The goal of the gift is to ensure that we remain the leader for patients like me. And I’m so excited about it.”
If you would like to learn more about supporting spine care and research at NEBH, please contact Ted Reardon at firstname.lastname@example.org.