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  • William Tobler: 
    Growing the Mayfield Foundation to Maximize Impact

    Author: William Tobler, MD

    Neurosurgery is my passion, my life’s work. I strive first to be an excellent doctor and to take good care patients. But I’m also passionately involved and interested in the evolution of new techniques and technologies that can improve outcomes and patients’ lives. About seven years ago, I became deeply involved in an offshoot of that second passion as Chairman of the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation.

    The Mayfield Foundation, established in 1977, grew out of the generosity of our founder, Dr. Frank Mayfield, who developed the Mayfield aneurysm clip and headrests. Profits from his small company were funneled into a charitable trust for the purpose of fostering excellence in neurosurgical training. The trust grew slowly, and for many years not much was done with it.

    I was connected to the foundation through my own involvement in medical instrumentation, so I had a voice when the foundation reached a crossroads in 2012. Should the funds be turned over to a major hospital non-profit? Or should Mayfield step up and give the foundation new life and purpose?

    I opted for the latter. I persuaded other Mayfield neurosurgeons to get involved, and we decided to hire a development director and expand the board to include influential community leaders who would help us translate our efforts into something tangible. Since then, our foundation has swelled from $1.5 million to $6 million. Our accomplishments include:

    • Creation of a state-of-the-art neurosurgery laboratory, a simulated operating room environment where we train physicians, residents, and fellows and work with partner companies to develop new technologies.
    • Full funding of the Jeffrey T. Keller Lectureship in Surgical Neuroanatomy & Research.
    • Continued support of the Winter Clinics for Cranial and Spinal Surgery, which attracts some 150 surgeons from all over the world and is now in its 28th year.
    • Support for the Cincinnati Chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation.
    • The awarding of nearly $1 million from 2016 to 2018 in pilot “Spark Grants” for promising research projects in brain tumors, hydrocephalus, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, spinal deformity, and stroke. Since 2014 we have seen three of our grantees leverage their preliminary data into more than $8 million in federal grants, while at least two grantees are anticipating clinical trials.

    Photo of the Mayfield Surgical Innovation Center, which was funded by a $500,000 grant from the Mayfield Foundation.

    In short, the Mayfield Foundation is now growing and impacting lives. As an independent foundation, we are in a unique situation – nimble and able to set new priorities and respond to them as needed. Rather than simply giving money away, we are investing in research, people, and ideas. Our capital is the human capital of the talented surgeons and researchers with whom we partner.

    I don’t often step back and consider what has happened here. But when I do, I’m most rewarded by our having taken something that was stuck in a corner -- for 32 years -- and elevated it to a higher, more impactful level. Today we are recognized as our region’s largest independent education and research foundation for the neurosciences. At the same time, the Mayfield Foundation is still very seminal. I look forward every day to the milestones that lie ahead.


    William D. Tobler, MD, is a neurosurgeon with Mayfield Brain & Spine and Chairman of the Board of the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation.

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