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Former VP delivers keynote address at ribbon-cutting/dedication for Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

OMAHA – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center a “remarkable facility” during Tuesday’s dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility.

“I’m not sure I can fulfill what I feel in my heart about the commitment all of you have made to deal with this dreaded disease,” he told the audience of health care professionals, elected officials, community leaders and members of the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Nebraska Medicine community.

“I’ll bet almost every one of you in this audience has been touched by cancer,” he said. “Either you personally, a family member, a husband, wife or child — someone you love, somebody close to you. Cancer is in a sense a communal disease — no one family member contracts the disease that the entire family doesn’t feel the consequences. So that’s why I think what you’re doing here is so, so important.”

Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett introduced Biden, who lauded the way the cancer center came together, pointing to the significant philanthropy of Pamela Buffett and others. “It is really a credit to the community,” he said.

Biden, who spoke shortly after Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, gave an emotional tribute to nurses – “I am a Democrat, the mayor’s a Republican, but I love her, because you know why? She was a nurse before this.”

He also spoke of his son’s battle with cancer — the former vice president’s son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46, and Biden has said he will spend the rest of his life fighting to eradicate the disease. He talked of the Cancer Moonshot initiative he championed, his new Biden Cancer Initiative, and his hopes for advancements in the battle against cancer.

“There’s a renewed momentum, and there’s a whole lot of renewed hope,” he said. “Apart from what we did in the White House, there’s a real excitement around the country about the moonshot because we started a program in the White House that has become a movement well beyond the White House, well beyond government,” he said.

Biden said it meant a great deal to him to celebrate the opening of “this remarkable facility” and to recognize the Buffett family’s commitment to the fight against cancer.

“In addition to the state-of-the-art research facility and the brilliant researchers and clinicians that are going to occupy these halls, you are obviously a completely patient-oriented center, just by the physical design of this place,” he said. “I hope many, many patients who will get treated here will get well in this place, and I hope other institutions follow your lead – and more and more are – in terms of patient-oriented treatment.” The effect of the center already has reached beyond Nebraska, he said.

“We have to update our strategy to the 21st century . . . I hope the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center will be the forefront of that change.”

“Collaboration is the key,” he added. “We need to come together and break down these siloes that exist out there now, to best care for patients.”

Vice President Biden understands that the cancer center is a transformational force, said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

“The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center will house the future of cancer research, clinical care and education,” Dr. Gold said. “It is a true integration of science and medicine, and of UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.”

“Vice President Biden recognizes that potential here and we’re honored to have his presence,” said Daniel DeBehnke, M.D., M.B.A., Nebraska Medicine CEO. “This journey began many years ago with a vision of creating a new way of integrating cancer research and treatment into the care of cancer patients. Look around you — that vision has become a reality. We are truly fortunate to live in a place like Omaha, where philanthropists, business leaders, elected officials and regular folk can share in a common vision and work together to achieve a lofty goal.

“There has never been anything like the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center before,” he said.

Mayor Stothert called the center a commitment to saving lives.

“The City of Omaha is proud to partner with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in this impressive facility. The research and care that will take place here will impact Omaha, our state, our county and our world,” she said. “It will impact patients and families and futures. In 2014, Nebraska Medicine and UNMC became internationally known for world-class health care during the Ebola crisis. We will now proudly build on that reputation as the groundbreaking facility in the fight against cancer.”

Hank Bounds, Ph.D., president of the University of Nebraska, said the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center was about partnerships.

“This is a journey we have been on together,” he said. “The university, the city, the county, the state of Nebraska, incredibly generous private donors, and truly citizens from across our state.

“This is what’s possible when we put our shared ideas, our passion, our commitment and our resources to work for the benefit of Nebraskans.

“We’re setting a new standard in patient-focused care,” he said. “This center represents new hope for Nebraskans whose lives have been impacted by this terrible disease.”

Dr. Gold thanked the governmental officials in attendance, as well as the organizations and individuals who had supported the center.

“We cannot thank you enough for your investment in our future,” Dr. Gold told Pamela Buffett, who with her late husband Fred lent their names to the center. He thanked other founding benefactors as well. Founding benefactors are Pamela Buffett (Rebecca Susan Buffett Foundation), Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, and CL & Rachel Werner. Distinguished benefactors are: Clarkson Regional Health Services, Mary & Dick Holland, Peter Kiewit Foundation, Robert B. Daugherty Foundation, and Ruth and Bill Scott.

The presentation included a video of cancer patients, who also attended the event, sharing stories of their experiences at Nebraska Medicine and their enthusiasm for the new Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

“That’s my center,” one of them said in the video.

“This magnificent new cancer center is all about making people’s lives better,” said Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

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