Stephen Family donates $10 Million, Name to Comer Children's Hospital NICU

September 29, 2013

A dozen members of the Stephen family, founders of Palatine-based Weber-Stephen Products Co., the company behind the iconic dome-shaped Weber Grill, have donated $10 million to support neonatal care at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital. The neonatology center's new name, the Margaret M. and George A. Stephen Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), was unveiled Sunday to more than a 1,000 attendees of an annual celebration reuniting NICU doctors, nurses and staff with families they once cared for.

The gift, among the Chicago area's largest ever earmarked for neonatal care, will support research toward advancements in treatments for critically ill and premature newborns, along with genetic studies to uncover links to early childhood diseases. The donation also enables the recruitment of an accomplished neonatologist who will become the new Stephen Family Professor of Pediatrics.

The Stephens' latest contribution builds on their long-standing support of neonatology at Comer Children's Hospital dating back to 2005. In addition to their latest gift, the family has directed more than $1.5 million to research and patient care at the hospital. The transformative relationship, sparked by the lasting impression the NICU left with Weber-Stephen Products Executive Chairman Jim Stephen during his first visit, has permeated to his mother, Margaret, to each of his 11 siblings and on to their children, who form a unique multigenerational effort aimed at offering the best chance at life for the smallest, most vulnerable patients.

"We've all been blessed with good health, so this is a way for us to give back through a local Chicago institution that we feel uses their resources wisely and does work that touches us -- helping kids," said Stephen. "My brothers, sisters and I have really gotten to know the doctors and nurses, and we've been impressed by how they selflessly dedicate themselves to doing everything they can to give these infants the best possible a chance at surviving and thriving."

Twelve members of the Stephen family -- Margaret, Jim, nine of his siblings and a niece -- have made equal contributions of $833,000 each to the $10 million commitment. For each sibling, the gift is a tribute to parents who instilled the enduring values that fuel their compassion for children. George Stephen, founder of Weber-Stephen Products, passed away in 1993, at age 71.

"We're very close as a family," said Jim Stephen. "We've grown up together, built Weber together, and socialize together. We stand together. It was natural for us to pool our resources to do something impactful."

With more than 1,000 infants admitted annually, the Stephen NICU at Comer Children's Hospital is the largest such facility in the Midwest and is considered one of the leading centers nationwide. The tiny patients in the care of this team of specialists are born with significant risk for brain damage, organ failure, breathing difficulties or other serious complications. For these babies, the first tenuous weeks or months of life can determine their ability to thrive and their life-long health status.

In addition to offering comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for complex cases, Comer Children's Hospital is home to physician-scientists dedicated to groundbreaking research and innovative personalized treatments. The hospital's leadership says the Stephens gift will have an immeasurable impact, helping to equip its staff with the most advanced clinical equipment and child-life resources. Additionally, the Stephen Family Professor will drive the humanitarian and scientific vision for neonatology at the University of Chicago Medicine, setting the stage for the next generation of leaders in the field.

"This historic gift holds the promise to change lives," said David Gozal, MD, Herbert T. Abelson Professor and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine and physician-in-chief at Comer Children's Hospital. "I view the Stephen family as our partners. They have been extraordinary in their generosity and understanding. They're very special."

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