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Brain tumor survivor invests to treat others

Brain tumor survivor Darren Latimer, far right, at Glencoe's Friends Parkvwith wife Allison and their daughters Molly, Olivia and Natalie. Photo courtesy Allison Latimer
Brain tumor survivor Darren Latimer, far right, at Glencoe's Friends Parkvwith wife Allison and their daughters Molly, Olivia and Natalie. Photo courtesy Allison Latimer

When you listen to Glencoe’s Darren Latimer talk, and see what he’s done, you might think, “We should all have heads like his on our shoulders.”

Maybe not, however.

Latimer, CEO of Northbrook’s Gibraltar Business Capital, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005. After surgery and treatment, it hasn’t reappeared, but it could. 

He’s down to three MRI checks a year, but he’ll probably be getting checked that often as long as he lives.

What’s really strange is he took his annoyance with things in business that don’t work right and applied it to the hospital that saved his life – almost immediately.

He said he saw something wrong among the docs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“There were great neurologists, great brain surgeons,” he said. “But there was no communication between groups.”

Everything was linear, he found. Not good.

“It needs to be a wheel,” he said. “Everybody talking to each other.”

So, still healing, he helped found the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute as an entity that worked like his vision. He gave it money and helped raise more, to the point that about $3.5 million in donations has been pumped into NBTI, a part of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“It takes a certain personality to have this disease and then help out in this way,” said Latimer’s neuro-oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Raizer, NBTI co-director.

That’s the pattern for the other people who have supported NBTI, too. Most people who back such efforts have personally been slammed by brain cancer, or live with someone who has.

Yet, they’re a fraction of those who have brain cancer. Most don’t go to bat against it — especially for eight seasons.

They just consider themselves lucky to be alive.

Latimer isn’t immune. 

“You really start to question your mortality … you never thought about it once, and then you think about it every day.”

But not too much, he said. 

“You have to learn to live with it, and understand it. You know it’s a risk: you have to manage it.”

Five years after the diagnosis, he helped raise the capital to buy Gibraltar.

 The only thing he sees wrong with his brain now is the loss of a little long-term memory: stuff from many years ago. No big deal — go on with life.

He and his wife Allison had a baby girl when he went under the knife. Now they have three.

“This is how he deals with things,” Allison Latimer said of her husband’s interest in changing the paradigm with NBTI. “This was something he felt he was in control of,  that he could help with: focus on something bigger than himself. He’s always been an entrepeneur, a go-getter, who doesn’t take no for an answer.”

Raizer may have been a key to why Latimer got involved with Northwestern. There was an argument, Latimer said, about how best to treat him, and Latimer was forced to settle it.

 “I picked Raizer as my quarterback,” he said. Latimer got aggressive treatment, with radiation, and chemo, and drugs.

He said that brain tumor research seemed to be driven by the pharmaceutical companies’ cash. NBTI tries to turn it the other way around, he said. Entice pharma to come to good projects.

Now Raizer is in the middle of NBTI research that Latimer and his associates help fund.

He’s the principal investigstor at Northwestern on a 200-patient nationwide study to test a vaccine for brain tumors. It’s the largest vaccine study of its type ever attempted by the National Cancer Institute.

Patients one day, if the trials are successful, could have vaccines prepared from their own tumors, that are re-administered to kill the cancer they were derived from.

Raizer is also working on a nano-particle approach, in which the tiny particles would carry cancer fighters straight to the cancer cells.

“If it gets off the ground, it could be a novel way of treating these tumors,” Raizer said.

NBTI started holding big benefit dinners five years ago. The next “Minds Matter” Gala is Oct.  4 at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago. 

Last year, Latimer and his wife Allison hosted the fete, which meant a lot of time for a mother of three young children. That’s unusual, she said: normally, “I’m his wingman, happy to go along for the ride, happy to help.

“I had to do a lot of work. There was a lot of responsibility, but I was happy to do that because it meant a lot to him. So it meant a lot to me.”

Individual tickets for the NBTI benefit cost $300, for dinner, a live auction, music by The Gentleman of Leisure, hosted by Rafer Weigel of ABC-7 Sports. For more information, visit www.braintumorinstitute.org.

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