Philanthropy is far more than financial for DDC Board member Laura Gralton

Oct. 29, 2013 College News - Family first led Laura Gralton to the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), and a goal of helping other families provided the inspiration for her to become a highly involved volunteer in the years since. For four years, Gralton has served on MCW’s Digestive Disease Center (DDC) Board, an advisory group of top business, professional and civic leaders who are committed to advancing digestive disease research, training and care.

James J. Gralton, Laura’s father, was barely 50 years old when he sought treatment at MCW for esophageal cancer in 1998. Digestive Disease Center researchers subsequently guided him to a clinical trial in New York. He passed away from the disease later that year, and Laura Gralton saw an opportunity to help bring greater research resources to MCW.

“As a community, we are very fortunate to have MCW in southeastern Wisconsin,” she said. “If I can help fund research to discover triggers and mechanisms for preventing esophageal cancer, I will have helped one more person avoid what my family went through in losing my dad.”

Gralton began her mission by establishing the James J. Gralton Laboratory and the James J. Gralton Endowed Research Fund in 2009 with a generous gift. Those dollars support diverse esophageal cancer research projects in the Digestive Disease Center under the direction of Reza Shaker, MD, the Joseph E. Geenen Professor in Gastroenterology, Chief of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research and Director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin.

Beyond philanthropy, Gralton wanted to become more directly involved as a champion for the Digestive Disease Center and its corps of more than 60 faculty scientists and physicians collaborating to discover the best ways to prevent, diagnose and treat digestive diseases. The fantastic leadership of the DDC Board, including Chair Daniel E. Burkwald, she said, makes this role an easy one.

“I wanted to get involved in a capacity that was more than just writing a check,” Gralton said. “Too many times, philanthropy stops with money. There are so many other ways people can give back, and my time is something else I feel MCW and the DDC are deserving of.”

Gralton has fulfilled this promise through her leadership of several key DDC fundraising events. Not only has she enjoyed playing in the annual LPGA Pro-Am Golf Tournament that supports Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis research, she has chaired the event for the last several years. This year, she is co-chairing the DDC’s signature event, the Healthcare Dinner, with fellow board member Ruth Brash. The combination of the 2013 speaker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Warren P. Knowles Humanitarian Award recipients, Patti and Jack McKeithan, is worthy of significant excitement.

“There aren’t two more deserving people of the award this year, and with their help and the love people in our community feel for them, this year’s dinner is going to be record-setting,” she said.

In addition to her enthusiasm, Gralton brings to the DDC Board a consultant’s talent for networking and bringing together people from across the Milwaukee area and beyond. She said she enjoys recruiting new people to events, creating greater overall awareness and engagement.

“My hope in joining the board was to bring both a fresh perspective and a fresh set of contacts to the group,” she said. “I believe I have been able to do both with success. My ability is bringing new people to the board and helping to raise funds from a broader and more diverse group of people who maybe haven’t contributed to the College before.”

A graduate of St. Norbert College, Gralton is excited about the development of MCW’s Community Medical Education Program, which consists of community-based medical school campuses in Central Wisconsin and in the Green Bay region, where St. Norbert is located and committed as a partner. She sees this as also extending the reach of the DDC.

“We have a world-renowned medical and research facility right here in southeastern Wisconsin, and it will soon have roots in northeastern Wisconsin,” she said. “Whether someone has inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, colitis, esophageal issues, really anything that involves the digestive tract, they can probably find a great solution here.”

Although her career and the DDC Board receive focus, Gralton still finds time for other important aspects in her life. She sits on the Stillwaters Cancer Center Board because she believes in its efforts to provide gratis, licensed counseling to people and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. She participates in several other community groups while also enjoying traveling, sailing, skiing, riding horses and playing with her dogs, Maverick and Charlee.

The pain of losing a parent to cancer, however, is never far from her mind.

“As any person who has gone through this situation, you want people to have easy access to as many options as possible when facing a medical crisis such as cancer,” she said. “That is my hope with the DDC and the research that we are doing at MCW. If we can help identify the triggers of certain issues early on, it can allow people to be treated before things become so serious that a negative diagnosis is looming. There is nothing better than an academic medical center that is on the cutting edge of treatments and research; we are all very lucky to have this in our community.”

About the DDC Board

The Digestive Disease Center Board plays a critical role in raising private funds for digestive disease research and increasing awareness of Digestive Disease Center programs. Members include community leaders and volunteers who are committed to advancing sophisticated medical research at MCW.

For more information on the Board, contact Lina Cicero, (414) 955-4701 or

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