May 1, 2017
Topic: Health & Medicine
The University of Michigan has named its bipolar disorder research program for automobile entrepreneur Heinz C. Prechter, in honor of a new gift commitment of up to $5 million.
The gift by World Heritage Foundation — Prechter Family Fund comes in the form of a challenge to others who care about bipolar disorder: The Prechter family will match every dollar given to U-M bipolar disease research, up to $5 million.
The challenge will double the value of every donation, and the Prechter family gift will be available to researchers faster, if others step in to support the cause.
Fifty years ago, Heinz Prechter moved his company to Detroit, to answer car buyers' fast-growing demand for sunroofs. But even as his products brought light into more than a million vehicles, he fought darkness in his own life. He struggled to keep his bipolar disorder hidden, until his July 2001 suicide shocked the automotive industry.
Heinz Prechter's wife, Waltraud "Wally" Prechter, resolved to fight the stigma that led her husband to hide his mental illness, and to address the lack of scientific understanding about the condition and how best to treat it. She channeled her energy into helping the U-M Depression Center do both, by donating and raising money for a U-M bipolar research fund in her husband's name.
Heinz C. Prechter and his wife, Waltraud "Wally" Prechter. Wally Prechter has resolved to fight the stigma that led her husband to hide his mental illness. (Photo courtesy of the Prechter family)
"I think that if you can — if you truly believe in something — you owe it to yourself to help, to give, and to make a difference. Because ultimately, that is all you leave behind," said Wally Prechter.
Once the challenge is met, the Prechter family's total giving to U-M bipolar research since Heinz Prechter's death will be well over $10 million.
Philanthropic gifts, including individual, foundation and corporate gifts, are critical to the effort and account for more than half of the research funding in any given year. The Prechter family set up this gift as a match to encourage more philanthropic support of research into bipolar disorder.
"I deeply appreciate Wally Prechter's commitment to advancing bipolar disease research that will give hope to millions of people around the world. The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program will enhance the University of Michigan's longstanding research initiatives and drive new medical discoveries to combat this devastating disorder," President Mark Schlissel said.
"When we lost Heinz to his disease, it took Wally's bravery and generosity to help us create incredible good out of such a tragic loss," says John Greden, the Depression Center's director and a professor of psychiatry, who was working with Heinz and Wally Prechter to create the Depression Center at the time of Heinz Prechter's death.
"Without Wally Prechter's leadership over the past decade, we would not have been able to develop the world's first bipolar-specific stem cell lines, discover new genetic links, explore environmental factors or bring experts worldwide together as we have," said Melvin McInnis, the Thomas B. and Nancy Upjohn Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program.
The Prechter family is committed to increasing scientific understanding and treatment options that will enable people with bipolar disorder to lead healthy and productive lives.
The new gift will grow the endowment that provides for the continuation of the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder, which has been ongoing for 11 years. It allows researchers to track symptoms, response to treatment and overall health over time.
The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program will be the umbrella program over the Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder and other bipolar research studies.
Bipolar disorder is a devastating, chronic mental illness with recurring episodes of manic highs and depressive lows. The illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and behavior.
Presently, 30 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder attempt suicide during their lives, and 20 percent die by suicide.