Harry Lester's experience in medicine and medical research grew through his involvement with Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served on the Board of Visitors and then as interim president. After his wife's battle with cancer and Alzheimer's and his own diagnosis of stage-four cancer, Lester's interest in medical research took a personal turn. He was fortunate to have access to a groundbreaking immunotherapy drug that saved his life, and as a supporter of the Foundation, he believes that focused ultrasound and the work we're doing has the potential to save many others.
Can you share some brief biographical information?
I am 73 years old and have lived in Virginia Beach since 1970. I graduated in 1967 from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. My career was in the commercial/industrial real estate brokerage business and, over the years, I have been involved in many community organizations. I love the Hampton Roads region, and my community involvement has always centered on initiatives that enable this area to be the best it can be.
I co-founded Lynnhaven River Now, and I serve on its board; other board involvement includes the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, the Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia Beach Vision, the Greater Norfolk Corporation, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission Technical Committee, TowneBank, and as president of the Hampton Roads Business Roundtable.
My volunteer work led me to a second career of sorts. When I was on the Board of Visitors at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, I was asked to serve as the interim president when the then president left unexpectedly. My interim position turned into eight wonderful years. Because of my background, I brought a business perspective to running EVMS and believe that I left it in a strong financial position.
What is your connection to the Focused Ultrasound Foundation? How did you first hear about us?
It is plain and simple: Jane Batten. We’ve known each other for a long time. I currently serve as the Chair of the Board for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Jane is Vice Chair. Jane is a member of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s Council and is a great advocate for the Foundation, always working hard to share the latest advancements and development of focused ultrasound. She introduced me to Neal while he was visiting Virginia Beach, and I enjoyed meeting him. Neal is a compelling person, and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation is a compelling organization.
What moved you to get involved?
As I said, the Foundation has a compelling story, but when you combine that story with a personal experience, it is hard to ignore. My wife died in April of 2018 from cancer and had been suffering from Alzheimer ’s disease for several years before her death. When Neal explained the possibilities that focused ultrasound could have for both of these conditions, I found it exciting, and the work of the Foundation really resonated with me.
Additionally, two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with stage four cancer – really out of nowhere. Fortunately, I was treated with an immunotherapy drug, and it saved my life. My situation really paralleled the main character in John Grisham’s The Tumor. If I had cancer five years ago, I would be dead. Luckily, the miracle of modern medicine was on my side, and I was able to be cured of my cancer. Therefore, I know first-hand how important timing is and how critical it is to help advance new medical technologies so they can be available to help patients in the shortest amount of time.
What excites you most about the Foundation?
When there is a disruptive, game-changing technology, one can see the many opportunities for saving people’s lives, and that is what the Foundation is all about. Neal tells the Foundation’s story so well, and it’s an exciting technology. It is rewarding to know there are really smart, dedicated people out in the world helping to advance focused ultrasound.
What impact do you hope to achieve through your philanthropy?
My financial support is modest, but I can also support the Foundation by sharing my story with others, particularly people in the medical field. I also encourage others to give to the Foundation, because every bit helps.
What do you tell others about focused ultrasound and the Foundation?
Focused Ultrasound is a new, lifesaving, game-changing, disruptive technology that is a miracle of modern medicine, just like the immunotherapy drugs that helped me. The Foundation is doing amazing work and is involved in many different clinical indications. The technology is making major advances thanks to the Foundation, and these advances will not only help patients, but will help their caregivers.
What would you tell someone who is considering making a gift to the Foundation?
Medical research is not cheap; it takes a lot of money, and it needs our financial support. Philanthropy can play a major role in medical research and advancing new treatments. I encourage others to get involved financially.