Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
Monday morning offered a bittersweet moment as Randy Capurro, a fixture in Las Vegas business and Republican political circles, became the first Alzheimer’s patient to be treated at the new Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Capurro is a close friend of Larry Ruvo, who founded the brain institute in honor of his late father, Lou.
Ruvo held the door and a small gathering of doctors and staff watched as Capurro and his wife entered the $100 million building. Four years ago Capurro was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the disease has cut back on his ability to stay engaged in the community. His wife of 46 years, Netty, has struggled to adjust to the burden of being his primary caregiver.
Cameras clicked as he shuffled through the doors, giving a slight wave and a small smile.
“I hope I’m here soon enough that I can be cured,” Capurro said.
Ruvo said that at first, he had bittersweet thoughts about having a friend as the Ruvo Center’s first patient, but then he thought: “I’m just glad these services are available to give Randy and his wife the best possible care.”
An estimated minimum of 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. Larry Ruvo’s father died of the disease in 1994. The dream to start what became the Ruvo Center was hatched the next year, with an impromptu fundraising dinner. The vision evolved into a partnership this year with the renowned Cleveland Clinic, which runs the clinical and research operations for the Ruvo Center.
The Ruvo Center’s mission is to provide world-class and innovative care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders, as well as support services for caregivers. Ruvo says his mother, Angie, was an additional victim of his father’s Alzheimer’s. She suffered back injuries caring for Lou Ruvo, requiring surgery.
The Ruvo Center will be a one-stop shop for medical care and social services for caregivers. The building houses clinical space, a diagnostic center, neuro-imaging rooms, physician offices and laboratories devoted to clinical research.
It’s also innovative for its design by Frank Gehry, one of the world’s leading architects. The exterior is made of curvy interlocking stainless steel pieces fabricated into undulating waves, up to seven stories high, that have an appearance of billowing blankets or sand dunes. The dramatic edifice — scheduled to be completed by early 2010 — will house a reception area that will be rented for events to provide revenue to the Ruvo Center.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, on hand when the Capurros went through the doors of the new building, called Monday a “historic day in Las Vegas.” The facility, the Cleveland Clinic staff and the dream to provide world-class health care in Las Vegas will be a tremendous service to Nevadans, he said.
Maureen Peckman, CEO of Keep Memory Alive, the fundraising and lobbying arm of the Ruvo Center, said having patients in the building represents the “end of the beginning” of establishing the institution.
The Ruvo Center is ramping up its operations and within weeks its 27 examination rooms will bustle with up to 100 patients a day. Most of the patients are already being seen by neurologist Dr. Charles Bernick, a Las Vegas Alzheimer’s specialist who is now associate medical director at the Ruvo Center.
The Ruvo Center is also adding Dr. Randolph Schiffer, its director, who is moving to Las Vegas from Cleveland. And it is recruiting three or four additional staff physicians who will work in Las Vegas.
About 25 staff members a day will work at the Las Vegas site, which is just off I-15 in Symphony Park. Their work will be augmented by staff at the Cleveland location. For instance, neuroradiologists in Cleveland will interpret images taken in Las Vegas.
Ruvo said the next step is “to find a cure,” adding, “We want to see this go the way of polio and so many other diseases.”