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Published January 07, 2014, 09:10 PM

Denny Sanford believes genetic medicine is 'the medicine of the future'

FARGO – Denny Sanford was recovering from possibly fatal blood clots in his lungs when he decided to invest $125 million to bring genetic medicine into the mainstream.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – Denny Sanford was recovering from possibly fatal blood clots in his lungs when he decided to invest $125 million to bring genetic medicine into the mainstream.

Sanford became ill on a hunting trip in south-central South Dakota in October, about 140 miles west of Sioux Falls.

Doctors there suspected he had pneumonia, but Sanford’s personal physician, Dr. Eric Larson of Sanford Health, suspected a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lungs – and arranged for an air ambulance to whisk him to Sioux Falls.

“He really saved my life,” Sanford said in a telephone interview with The Forum, referring to Larson, an internal medicine doctor and one of the champions of the new genetic medicine initiative Sanford Health announced Tuesday.

Sanford, who is in his late 70s, did not attend Tuesday’s announcement, which was made in Sioux Falls, and simulcast to Sanford medical centers in Fargo, Bismarck and Bemidji, Minn.

While recuperating in his namesake hospital in Sioux Falls, Sanford reminded Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health’s top executive, that his team was preparing a genetic medicine proposal.

He invited them to make their pitch two days later, when he was convalescing at home. Sanford’s recent medical emergency made him receptive to the idea of placing results of genetic testing tools in the hands of primary care physicians.

“It was an opportune time to lay it out on me,” Sanford said, chuckling about the timing and his gratitude for the care he received.

“I believe that is the medicine of the future,” added Sanford, referring to the use of genetic information in tailoring health care. He recently donated $100 million to a stem cell research program in California.

Sanford, a St. Paul native who founded Premier Bank, now has donated more than $1 billion, much of it to Sanford Health, beginning with a $400 million gift in 2007.

“My plan is to die broke,” Sanford said, adding that Krabbenhoft has been persuasive and that Sanford Health has a proven track record.

“I so believe in that organization,” Sanford said. “We are saving lives every day.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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