GARY FAZIO: AMBASSADOR COMMITTED TO THE CAUSE

Challenging Other Industry Leaders To Get Involved

Written By Debra Gelbart
September 2017
Edited November 2019

For Gary Fazio and the Seena Magowitz Foundation, it’s a mutual admiration society.

The Foundation immensely appreciates Gary’s generosity and dedication to the cause of pancreatic cancer research. He is eternally grateful for the Foundation’s responsiveness to individual needs and for how he personally has been helped by Roger Magowitz, the Foundation’s founder, and by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, the world’s leading pancreatic cancer researcher.

Though Gary retired from his position as CEO of Serta Simmons Bedding, he remains active in industry events and with philanthropic causes important to the industry, including the Seena Magowitz Foundation.

A Profound Story

In 2014, Gary’s wife Annette was showing signs of something seriously wrong with her health. Initially, doctors thought it might be liver cancer. Gary let Roger know what was going on after Roger had asked him to chair the Foundation’s annual fundraising event in Orlando of that year. Gary wasn’t sure he could attend because of Annette’s health. Roger told him Annette needed a second opinion and immediately referred Gary to Dr. Von Hoff who connected Gary, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, to a liver specialist in Dallas.

Gary was able to get an appointment for Annette very quickly, and in early May of that year, she underwent surgery. Doctors determined she did not have cancer and that her liver condition was far less serious and could be treated. She could then be monitored to make sure the condition didn’t recur. Today, she feels fine and has a clean bill of health.

That amazing turn of events allowed Gary and Annette to attend the fundraising event in Orlando after all. “That changed everything,” Gary said. “I was still able to go to the event and speak to those in attendance.”

Making A Significant Difference

Gary decided he wasn’t going to simply speak from the stage at the fundraising dinner. He was going to walk among those in attendance and try to speak directly to as many people as he could. First, he stopped at Roger’s table, tapped Roger on the shoulder and in an imitation of Roger’s voice, thanked him for his invaluable help. Then, Gary tapped Dr. Von Hoff on the shoulder. “You found the surgeons who saved my wife’s life,” he told Dr. Von Hoff.

Then, Gary turned his attention to the pancreatic cancer survivors in the room. He asked them all to stand and be recognized. .

After that speech in 2014, Gary spoke at a national sales conference for the combined manufacturers. He challenged the attendees to a contest to see which team—Serta or Simmons—could raise more money for the Seena Magowitz Foundation and its mission of funding pancreatic cancer research. Gary explained why a disease this deadly is often top of mind for him. “Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all cancers. We have to find a way to beat it.”

At that national sales meeting, Gary learned that a top sales professional with the company had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two days before the meeting. That patient was Gary Mielke who lived in Florida. That prompted Gary to contact Roger, and Roger contacted Steve Mielke and put him in touch with Dr. Von Hoff.

Mielke flew from his hometown in Florida to Phoenix to see Dr. Von Hoff who placed on a treatment regimen. Today, Mielke is cancer-free. “Had Gary not issued that challenge on behalf of the Seena Magowitz Foundation,” Roger said, “it’s possible he might not have learned of the patient’s diagnosis in as timely a fashion and the patient might not have connected with Dr. Von Hoff at the time he did to receive life-saving treatment. I am so grateful that Gary made appealing for donations to the Seena Magowitz Foundation a priority before he retired.”

The challenge Gary issued to the Serta and Simmons teams at that sales meeting resulted in a $600,000 donation to the Seena Magowitz Foundation—presented at the next Foundation fundraising event in May of 2015. “We were able to surprise Roger,” Gary said.

Gary continues to generously support the Foundation. “This effort is so important,” he emphasized. “And helping the patients and the researchers is up to all of us. As Roger likes to say, ‘If not us, then who?’ This disease is becoming more prevalent. We’ve got to find a cure.”

 

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