94 Year-Old Lexington Woman Gives Back as Research Volunteer

On Dec. 2, a very special group of people gathered to celebrate a very special gift.

"Participation in clinical trials is a truly noble act, and we consider the people who volunteer for research part of our family," says Dr. Gregory Jicha, a professor at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. "So it's natural that we would gather at the holidays to share a little joy and thanksgiving."

Every year, the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has a party for patients who have volunteered to participate in research at the center. It's an annual highlight for patients and staff alike, who often form special bonds over the course of several years.

Geneva Pope is one example.

This 94 year old, "and 3 months," she chimes in, began participating in clinical trials at Sanders-Brown 14 years ago. "God wants me to help people, and this is one way I can," she explains.

The entire Sanders-Brown staff adores this self-proclaimed "busy person." She makes them bourbon balls -- she's already made 300 this year -- and has "family" photos taken with Dr. Jicha. She has convinced several of her friends to participate as well.

"Geneva has the smallest family -- and the largest family -- of anyone I know," Jicha says. "While she has no immediate relatives, she is cherished by literally dozens of extended family and godchildren -- us included."

"We look forward each year to seeing her hat," Jicha says, referring to Geneva's collection of more than 100 hats.

According to Jicha, participation in research is vital to the advancement of medicine, and without volunteers -- both healthy and sick -- we would not have many of the treatments we routinely use today, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain management and vaccines for polio and other diseases.

Geneva's affection for the "loving people" at Sanders-Brown was cemented at the beginning of her stint as a research volunteer. On Dr. Jicha's visit to Geneva's home, he discovered that the elevator to her third floor apartment was out of service. Geneva, who has difficulty walking, was housebound.

"It bothered me that Geneva didn't have access to heath care if she needed it," Jicha remembers. So he made a phone call to her landlord. The elevator was fixed that afternoon.

"We (at Sanders-Brown) are here to help people," Jicha says. "While that usually doesn't involve getting a patient's elevator repaired, how could we not help someone like Geneva who is doing so much for others without asking for acknowledgement or reward?"

In Dr. Jicha's experience, people who volunteer for medical research are motivated for a number of reasons. Healthy volunteers usually know someone who's ill and want to help them, while sick volunteers say they are doing it for their kids and for others who might contract the disease.

"Either way," says Dr. Jicha, "these volunteers feel a sense of empowerment -- that they are contributing to the fight. Many of these volunteers report a sense of loss once the trial is over."

Clinical research is under way in many places at the University of Kentucky, including Sanders-Brown.

To learn more about participating in research, please visit
http://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/about/clinical-research/. You can see examples of the research currently happening at UK, and you can also enroll in ResearchMatch. ResearchMatch is an easy-to-use, secure, volunteer research participant registry that brings together willing volunteers who are trying to find research studies, and researchers who are looking for people to participate in their studies. Joining is free and takes just a few minutes.

Registering for ResearchMatch does not require you to participate. Instead, you simply register and wait to be contacted about studies that might interest you. If you are contacted about participation in a study, researchers will fully explain to you what the study is about and what your participation will require. At that time you can decide if you want to participate. If you have questions about research participation, please contact Roxane Poskin at 859-257-7856 or roxane.poskin@uky.edu.

Research positively impacts the lives of millions of people every day, but research needs volunteers to keep it moving forward. Volunteering to participate in research can make a big difference in obtaining outcomes that may lead to future medications, treatments and healthier lives for everyone.