The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has received a $200,000 gift from the late Bob and Sara Lou Cargill to support care for patients with brain diseases.

The gift will help support the Virmani Gait Laboratory, headed by Tuhin Virmani, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the UAMS Movement Disorders Program and assistant professor in the Department of Neurology in the College of Medicine.

Scientists in the lab study gait issues among patients with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system that leads to a deficiency of dopamine, a chemical in the brain important for movement. Specifically the lab focuses on freezing of gait, a phenomenon where Parkinson’s patients feel like their feet are stuck to the ground.

“We greatly appreciate the generous gift to the Virmani Gait Lab from Bob and Sara Lou Cargill given by Mr. and Mrs. Lee,” said Virmani. “This gift will help support our important work trying to figure out the causes of freezing of gait in people with Parkinson’s disease, which hopefully will eventually lead to new treatments and cures for this difficult-to-treat symptom.”

The Cargills were married for nearly 70 years, dedicating their lives to ministry, business, travel and philanthropy. Bob Cargill was pastor of five churches in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas for over 20 years. Sara Lou Cargill was an accomplished musician, playing the piano and organ wherever her husband pastored, working with young people and raising her family.

Starting out as a small-town preacher, Bob Cargill discovered he had a talent for raising money. At every town he preached in, he helped build a new church.

In 1976, the couple founded Cargill Associates, a fundraising consulting firm that has helped raise more than $7 billion for churches, schools, colleges, universities and other nonprofit organizations. Throughout their lives, the Cargills gave generously to many Christian causes and charitable organizations. Bob died in 2015 and Sara Lou in 2020.

Prior to their deaths, the couple earmarked funds for additional giving but did not specify where. Daughter Sara Beth Lee of Little Rock, and her husband, John, said it was an easy decision to designate the gift for UAMS and the Virmani Gait Lab.

“We are so fortunate to have this money to give on their behalf,” Sara Beth Lee said.

“We wanted to give specifically to someone who’s making a big difference for people with brain disease, and Dr. Virmani is doing that,” said John Lee.

The Lees understand brain disease all too well. Their late son, Robby, had epilepsy for 17 years, sometimes experiencing between 50 and 100 seizures a day.

John Lee has Parkinson’s disease, with a family history that includes his brother, cousin, uncle and grandfather. Years ago, after a follow-up visit for what he thought was nervousness, Lee’s doctor referred him to Virmani, who diagnosed him. Since then, Lee sees Virmani for follow-ups every six months and is a research participant in his lab.

“We really like Dr. Virmani a lot,” said John Lee. “He’s a whole different ballgame. He’s made the last eight years of my life really nice.”

(1) comment


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