Not only did Mandy Patinkin make a living playing a hot-shot surgeon on the CBS series “Chicago Hope” in the ‘90s, but he’s been blessed by medical science in real life.
Between 1978 and 1998, when he was stricken with an eye disease called keratoconus and feared he was going blind, doctors saved his eyesight with corneal transplants. “I have two eyes that were given to me by two children, a 13-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl,” he said.
Not only that but he’s also a cancer survivor. His father Lester died of pancreatic cancer at age 52. The Chicago-born actor-singer hoped he could just get past that age without any bad news. Sure enough, before he reached 52 he got a diagnosis of prostate cancer. “It was terrifying,” Mandy said. “I thought a Mack truck had hit me. I freaked out.”
Mandy, now 60, told his frightening story at a benefit dinner of the American Friends of Soroka Medical Center last month at the Harvard Club. The aim was to raise funds for a Comprehensive Cancer Center at the hospital in Be’er Sheva.
“I was blessed with wonderful friends, family and medical institution to take care of me, embrace me, put their arms around me, comfort me, and give me confidence with all the choices and information in the world. To be bereft of that is beyond description.”
He didn’t hesitate to participate in the fundraising gala—on video—because, he said, his research showed that Soroka offers “that guidance, that education, that care, that technology. That is something to support with all your heart and soul. If you don’t take care of these people, when you need someone to take care of you no one will be around. That’s how it works.”
More than that, Mandy was thrilled to learn that his “daughter-in-love,” Kristen Widmer, his son Isaac’s fiancée, is a graduate of Ben-Gurion University Medical School for International Health, in collaboration with Columbia University Medical Center, and its teaching hospital Soroka. Kristen is currently teaching native Americans in Sitka, Alaska. “She learned her lessons well at Soroka,” Mandy kvelled.
At the dinner Dorian Goldman of the American Friends presented its Visionary Leadership Award to Shimon Glick. He made aliyah from New Jersey in 1974 and became founding chairman of the Division of Medicine at Soroka.
Professor Glick quipped that the reason he’s being honored is that the hospital thinks “I have many rich and generous friends.”
So he pleaded for donations: “Just think if you give a million dollars to Harvard or Stanford to add to their multibillion dollar endowment it will be a drop in the bucket and you will get a nice letter from the president. A million dollars to Soroka will have tremendous impact and you will be treated royally.”