The Marc A. Lehmann Spirit of Service Award Foundation is honoring Louisville’s most compassionate caregivers
By Mariah Kline
Marc Lehmann was a recent graduate of St. Xavier High School and a freshman at the University of Louisville when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He spent the next several years pursuing treatment in hospitals throughout the country. During the course of his illness, he encountered hundreds of doctors, nurses and aides who made an impression on him.
“He told me, ‘Dad, I can tell you within two minutes when a caregiver walks in my room if they give a damn whether I live or die,’” says George Lehmann, Marc’s father and a survivor of stage four urethral cancer.
Marc died in 2012 at the age of 27. The following year, his father teamed up with Marc’s acquaintance Paul Resch, a long-term survivor of acute myelogenous leukemia, to start a charitable foundation to honor those who provide exceptional care in oncology.
The mission of the Marc A. Lehmann Spirit of Service Award Foundation is to recognize these individuals and foster this benevolent behavior in the medical community. Each October, they hold the Spirit of Service Awards Banquet to acknowledge one support staff member and one physician from each local hospital system.
“We’re trying to encourage doctors and let them know that (their) caring makes a difference,” says Lehmann. “There’s a big burnout rate with oncologists, especially these days, and there’s data that shows the burnout rate reduces when doctors get invested in their patients, not when they separate themselves.”
Countless organizations are working to find cures for cancer, but what Lehmann, Resch and so many others have discovered is that the personal interactions with medical personnel are as significant as the treatments.
“You want to have that relationship and comfort level,” Resch says, “because the care itself has just as much of an impact as the medicine they give you.”
“You don’t have to go very far to find somebody who has had this battle in their lives or knows someone who has,” Lehmann says. “If you have a family member who’s sitting in a hospital bed day after day fighting for their lives and a caregiver comes in the room and exhibits genuine compassion, you can’t thank them enough.”
In addition to honoring practicing caregivers, Lehmann and Resch are working to ensure that those entering the medical profession understand the significance of their humanity. This year, the foundation sponsored several future physicians at the University of Louisville School of Medicine’s White Coat ceremony.
“The public needs to be mindful that this is a hard profession. (This job) would destroy some people,” Lehmann says. “But at the end of the day, these doctors and these caregivers know that their efforts are appreciated. I love having the opportunity to thank some of them.”
Honorees are selected by the previous year’s award winners, and the fraternity of recognition continues to grow. In 2018, Resch devised the idea for the Inspiration Award, an honor bestowed upon someone who is not in the medical field but embraces the mission of the foundation. Last year’s honoree was Vincenzo Gabriele, owner of Italian restaurant Vincenzo’s. Gabriele has hosted the awards ceremony several times in recent years, often closing the restaurant for the night to accomodate the foundation’s guests.
“He’s probably been our biggest supporter,” says Lehmann. “This is a guy who gives back very quietly.”
This year, the Inspiration Award will go to the West Chestnut Street Baptist Church Zion Legion Male Chorus, whose members have impacted countless patients. Lehmann first encountered the group of singers at the UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center, where his son spent the last seven months of his life. One Sunday morning, he heard singing and discovered that a group of men was walking around the hospital singing gospel music.
“They would tour the ward and stop at a room to sing if you wanted them to,” he recalls. “They would stop and hold patients’ hands. This went on every Sunday, and I remember how uplifting it was.”
Upon researching the group, Lehmann learned that the choir performs for two-and-a-half hours every Sunday morning. Some members have taken part in the weekly ritual for 30 years, proving the foundation’s belief that anyone – not just medical professionals – can support someone who’s fighting for their life.
By continuing to recognize those who are providing exceptional care and support, the foundation’s committee members hope to perpetuate the positivity.
“Hope is a beautiful thing to give, and that’s what this foundation is all about,” says Resch. “We need to step outside of our differences and show the understanding, the compassion and the awareness that will bring out the good in everyone.” V
For more information, visit spiritofserviceaward.org or call 502.897.7530.