UCLA has received $1 million from Mark and Laura Wittcoff to establish the Marjorie Scherck and Raymond Wittcoff Nursing Fellowship in Stroke Care Innovation. The fellowship will support nursing staff for the UCLA Arline and Henry Gluck Stroke Rescue Program, which operates a mobile stroke unit that provides early diagnosis and care when patients are being transported to a hospital.

The fellowship honors two of the Witcoffs’ family members who were committed advocates for nursing care as supporters of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where Mark’s father, Raymond Wittcoff, was chairman of the board at Washington University Medical Center. Marjorie Scherck, Laura’s grandmother, was a major benefactor of the hospital who took Laura to volunteer in the gift shop.

“Thanks to our beloved family members, we’re very lucky to be able to give, and it gives us great satisfaction to know that this gift memorializing them will advance UCLA’s mission of research, education and service,” Mark Wittcoff said. “We’re proud to be assisting UCLA, which helps all people with the same high level of care.”

The nursing fellowship marks the Wittcoffs’ second major gift to UCLA, following a 2019 contribution to support the stroke rescue program and other UCLA Health priorities. The Wittcoffs also volunteer as co-chairs of the program’s council of advocates, which is raising additional funds and recruiting community leaders to be ambassadors for the program.

In addition, the Wittcoffs serve on the board of the UCLA Health System. That position came about because of an invitation from Henry Gluck, and Mark Wittcoff said it was Gluck’s friendship and mentorship that inspired the couple’s most recent gift.

“We consider it a responsibility to raise much more than we give,” he said. “What better way to honor and continue Henry and Arline’s inspiring work than by ensuring that this life-saving program grows and lasts into the future.”

Stroke is the leading cause of disability, and one of the top causes of death, in the U.S. Because people’s ability to recover from a stroke often depends on how quickly they receive treatment, UCLA Health launched the Gluck Stroke Rescue Program in September 2017. Staffed by a vascular neurologist, critical care nurse, paramedic and CT technologist, the ambulance was California’s first mobile stroke unit. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Emergency Medical Services and Department of Health Services, the program enables early testing and initial treatment while patients are transported to the most appropriate stroke center.

Since its inception, the program has grown from working with one fire department serving one city to six fire departments serving 23 cities in Los Angeles County, including socioeconomically disadvantaged communities where patients tend to face longer transport times to hospitals. Many of those communities also are home to racial and ethnic minorities, including African American and Hispanic people, who have higher rates of stroke incidence than the general public and for whom strokes are more likely cause disability and death.

Those disparities have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, because the disease’s blood-clotting effects can contribute to stroke.

“Mobile stroke units have changed the paradigm of pre-hospital stroke care by providing patients conclusive imaging-based diagnoses, initiating hyperacute treatment and allowing for precise routing to the most appropriate level of stroke care,” said Dr. May Nour, the program’s medical director. “We are sincerely grateful for the Wittcoffs’ generous gift in support of clinical nursing in the Arline and Henry Gluck Mobile Stroke Rescue Program. Their commitment to expanding our program and its network of support has been invaluable.”

Mark Wittcoff is president and CEO of Landmark Equity Properties, an investment real estate asset management firm. Laura Wittcoff is a principal of InTrinsic Group, a boutique consulting firm, and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.