Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | 3 a.m.
Larry Ruvo is a man with several missions: Find a cure for debilitating brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s; change the model of care patients receive; and discover a way to diagnose the illnesses early and then successfully treat them.
Ruvo is chairman of Keep Memory Alive, the fundraising arm of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and the senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits. Keep Memory Alive was founded during a dinner with friends and family after his father, Lou, died from complications of Alzheimer’s.
IBLV: You founded Keep Memory Alive and the Ruvo Center for Brain Health after your father, Lou, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Describe how you feel when you look at the almost finished building and the partnership with Cleveland Clinic.
Ruvo: Proud. A feeling of accomplishment of bringing the Cleveland Clinic to Nevada. I believe people will look back in years to come that one of the most significant milestones of growth of our city and state is our partnership with the Cleveland Clinic.
How would you feel if the Ruvo Center ended up making a significant contribution to curing Alzheimer’s?
I think we already have, through our symposiums, the communication. I look at medicine like I look at business. It’s about communicating. Getting these doctors to talk through our symposiums has already helped to find a cure and communicate with other doctors. But most important, it has given us a mission of finding a cure by 2020. We have some goals now that have been set. A lot of these goals have been set because of Keep Memory Alive and now the Center for Brain Health.
But I also think it’s not just about a cure. It’s about early detection. What Dr. (Michael) Modic (chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Neorological Institute) and the team are planning on doing is finding the disease earlier, treating it earlier. To put a burglar alarm on your house after you’ve been robbed, that’s not the way it should work. If we can find young people and get them on drugs earlier and do the early detection, that would be a major milestone. To get people who want to be tested and know that they should be tested in their 30s and their 40s and their 50s — not wait until they themselves become a grandparent. The grandchildren should be treated and followed and studied.
There has been a lot of buzz around the Ruvo Center, especially as the building nears completion. Do you think there would be this much attention had Frank Gehry not been the architect?
I think Frank Gehry, (as) I’ve told him often, I hired him as a marketing tool. I know for a fact that we have had other buildings designed, and we really received no traction. Frank Gehry was a marketing tool, will continue to be a marketing tool. We will use his celebrity and I want to expose his celebrity more and more. I believe that the worldwide attention that the Center for Brain Health is receiving is in great part because of Frank Gehry, up until the alliance with Cleveland Clinic. Now you put the Cleveland Clinic together with the Frank Gehry building, that’s monumental.
When you are giving tours of the building, such as the one you recently gave former Mexican President Vicente Fox, what are you most proud of to share with them?
The attention that we give the caregivers, the sensitivity and the compassion we give the caregivers and the guidance we’re going to give the caregivers. The patients, from my own personal experience, I wish my father would have been treated like they are being treated here. There’s a sensitivity and a care, and I don’t want to overuse the word — love — but there’s a care here about the patients, a combination of the caregiving.
What President Fox was completely overcome by was not having a lot of patients in a waiting room seeing one another. He loved going right into what we call the patient suites. He loved what we were doing with the caregivers. He loved the fact that when you had to talk to a family, there’s a private room with curtains and compassion. He loved the sympathy we were able to give the families, not just the treatment. He liked the whole package.
Now that the Cleveland Clinic is operating the Ruvo Center, what is Keep Memory Alive’s role?
Exactly what it was from the day of its inception: to continue to get, most important, awareness; raise money for programs; and, as we promised our benefactors once this building is paid off and we’re nearing that, is to continue to raise money for research, find a cure, promote early detection, tell patients about brain health, work with our chief partners and friends. I envision one of our next goals is — in the last two decades we’re able to see a heart-healthy menu. We want to see a brain-healthy menu. We want to package some foods for brain health. I believe that in the next few years you’ll be going into restaurants around the world and you’ll see a logo from the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health that will denote exactly that little heart-friendly, heart-healthy menu (symbol), we’re going to do that with brain-health food. You’ll see them around. People aren’t aware of that.
We have a mission at Keep Memory Alive to continue to get patients and their families and people involved now (through) early detection, raise money through our various events, and awareness, and help our partners at Cleveland Clinic make sure that we can fund the excitement of moving these great doctors to Las Vegas. We don’t just want to move a doctor to Las Vegas, and say, go see your patients. We want to take care of those doctors, their families, we want to make the move as comfortable as possible.
Keep Memory Alive is going to have many hats. Well, one hat that we won’t have, that we never planned to have, that we didn’t want to have and we’re not qualified to have, is to operate this clinic. We got the best partner in the world to do that, and that’s something we hadn’t ever anticipated we could do.
I noticed there is a sign posted along the street that says Keep Memory Alive is still fundraising. Have donations slowed down? And if so, why?
I would not say they have slowed down. We have broadened our base, where Keep Memory Alive was originally just a Las Vegas charity and then a Nevada charity and then a United States charity, now with our new partners, we can expand our horizons because Cleveland Clinic believes that Dr. Modic and Dr. (Toby) Cosgrove (CEO of Cleveland Clinic) and Dr. (Randolph) Schiffer (director of the Ruvo Center) believe they are going to be able to do for the brain what Cleveland Clinic did for the heart. They’re known world over for cardiovascular. They believe that what they are going to be able to do for the brain in coming years is exactly what they (did) over the last three decades with cardiovascular and heart — become No. 1. They see the brain as the last frontier. Well, as this disease starts to become a tsunami force on planet Earth, we may raise a little less money in Las Vegas, but our overall goal is more aggressive than ever because we can now reach beyond our borders because this building is not just for Las Vegans. It’s for people throughout the world. We’re already seeing patients from other states, and I predict with our doctor symposiums and the care and the attention that we’re giving here, we’re going to be able to bring people in from all over the world.
Once the building is done, will you be handing over the reins of Keep Memory Alive or do you plan to remain actively involved?
To my last breath I’ll be involved. As long as God gives me good health, I will never leave this. It’s in my blood, it’s in my passion and the commitment my family and I, and Camille (his wife) and I have made to this, we both know this is something that’s become a passion. It’s become our life and it’s an opportunity now to work with an incredible organization, the Cleveland Clinic, to be able to cure a disease. It’s amazing for our city and it’s amazing for the Ruvo family.