Calgary Herald Lymphedema Donation

 diane irv kipnes lymphedema 5 million

$5M donation aims to ease suffering from common


affliction of cancer patients


In 2009, Dianne Kipnes felt as though she could finally put her health crisis behind her. “I thought I was home free,” she says of reaching the five-year, post-cancer mark — a milestone of success for most cancers. “I could stop thinking every time I had a twitch that it was cancer,” she says.

To celebrate, she and her husband, Irving, went on a European vacation. While there, she woke up one morning to find one of her legs inflamed to twice its size, the skin red and scaly. “It was such a shock,” says Kipnes. “I didn’t know if it was a mosquito bite or it was a psychological reaction, because we’d been to visit a concentration camp the day before.

The Edmonton clinical psychologist would eventually find out that she had Lymphedema, a chronic infection affecting the lymphatic system that can arise from some cancer treatments.

“It was gross,” she says of the condition that brings on excessive swelling due to the lymphatic cells failing to drain fluid, cells and proteins away from tissues within the body. “It is also extremely painful.”

When she and Irving returned home to Edmonton, they also learned that while Kipnes’ condition affects more than 60 per cent of those treated for cancer, there was a disturbing paucity of information and research on the condition that afflicts up to five million North Americans.

That wasn’t acceptable to the couple, renowned in their home city of Edmonton for their philanthropy and hands-on involvement in a wide variety of charitable and community causes.

Dianne Kipnes and her Calgary-born husband, a former oilpatch executive who runs several successful businesses, founded the Irving Kipnes Centre for Veterans and have donated millions to such worthy organizations as the Alberta Cancer Foundation; they’ve also invested in the arts, education and the local Jewish community, work that in 2012 earned Irving the Alberta Order of Excellence, the province’s highest honour.

On Tuesday morning, they continue their support of those who have helped them, with the announcement of a $5 million donation to the University of Calgary and the Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. The gift will make it possible for the U of C’s faculty of medicine to create a Lymphatic Imaging Suite, as well as help recruit new researchers.

“To watch people suffer ... when treatment can be offered is a tragedy,” Kipnes says to a group that includes U of C president Elizabeth Cannon, along with a team of researchers devoted to studying the human lymphatic system.

After receiving treatment in 2009, Kipnes became interested in knowing more about how she and her husband could help support those working to better understand and treat such conditions of the lymphatic system. “I attended two international conferences,” she says. “Our conclusion was that on the clinical side, it was woefully underfunded.”

Pierre-Yves von der Weid can attest to that. The U of C associate professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology, an internationally recognized researcher in the field, describes his area of interest as “a very small community.”

Von der Weid describes his passion for studying the lymphatic system as a case of serendipity: after receiving his PhD from the University of Geneva with a specialty in vascular physiology, he attended a talk by an Australian expert on the lymphatic system and was so fascinated by the “mysterious aspects to it” that he moved to Australia to study under him.

The $5 million donation, he says, “will provide us with an opportunity to move further in our knowledge and research.”

“Even philanthropy has its political overtones,” acknowledges Kipnes, who on this day has invited Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel to be on hand for the announcement. “This is not a gift to Calgary ... it is a gift to Canada,” she says of the donation that will also foster co-operative research between experts at the U of C and the University of Alberta.

“This will be for every person in our country who wakes up with swollen limbs, who can’t go to work,” she says of the condition that can result in loss of limb function if left untreated.

Mostly, though, it is a gift from one successful Alberta family to the greater Canadian, and world, community. “We can avail ourselves of these resources,” she says, adding it’s her hope that one day there will be simple and accessible treatment available to people from all walks of life. “A lot of people can’t. To know they are suffering, that’s not fair. That’s really what it’s all about.”