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A gift of gratitude

By Leslie Hill
January 2011

The Two Dr. Zics. Photo by John Russell

The Two Dr. Zics. Photo by John Russell

Conventional wisdom says never to look a gift horse in the mouth, but on a typical day seeing patients in the clinic, John Zic, M.D., found himself staring down at a literal gift horse, not quite sure how to react.

His patient Beth McDaniel and her husband, Roger, had just proudly presented Zic with a manila envelope. Inside he found a glossy 8x10 photo of a racehorse striding for the finish line.

“I thought they were giving me a horse,” he recalled, the shock still evident in his voice.

The McDaniels quickly explained that they were the horse’s owners and had named her Dr. Zic in honor of their physician.

“I really didn’t know what to say. You’re always honored when a patient even brings in a case of peaches from their farm or cookies for the staff. But this is really on a different level,” said Zic, associate professor of Dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and associate dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

In 2005, the McDaniels started Derby Lane Farm near Lexington, Ky., and around the same time, Beth began to have mysterious itching on her abdomen. She saw specialists around the country, but no one could find a solution.

Finally, a doctor in Lexington referred her to Zic who made the diagnosis – cutaneous lymphoma. In this relatively rare disease, cancerous cells infiltrate the skin.

“The hallmark of this disease is that you itch to death,” Beth said. “My skin is often red all over and it dries and peels constantly. I feel as if I have full-body dandruff.”

Later, when the McDaniels’ trainer suggested they purchase a promising filly, they knew just who to name her after. Dr. Zic surprised everyone by winning her very first race, and she just kept winning.

“Dr. Zic (the horse) won quite a bit of money, and my husband wanted to get me something for my birthday. I kept saying I have everything I want, so he came up with the idea that we would give to Vanderbilt,” Beth said.

Their gift was split in half between a fund for immediate use and an endowment so the funding opportunities will continue in the future. The funds support cutaneous lymphoma research, including the work of two new Dermatology faculty members, Laura McGirt, M.D., and Jeffrey Zwerner, M.D., Ph.D., who are chomping at the bit to research the disease.

“There have been great strides in diagnosing the disease earlier and some significant discoveries in new treatments, but we need more,” Zic said.
“My thinking is that it probably won’t help me,” Beth said, “but maybe my kids might have this disease and it would help them. I don’t want anybody else to go through this misery.”

After her initial burst of success, Dr. Zic had to be taken out of racing for nearly a year for an ankle injury. Now she is in great shape, and won a prestigious race this spring.

The McDaniels have pledged future winnings from Dr. Zic to the cutaneous lymphoma research fund.

“Dr. Zic may never win another race in her life, but we plan on adding to the fund when she does,” Beth said.

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