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Urban Initiatives

Urban Initiatives 

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Three years ago I was driving home from Wilmette to Logan Square after coaching soccer practice, all of a sudden my right hand turned into a clenched fist, for a second I thought what an odd place to get a muscle cramp, but the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I awoke as the medical shears sliced through my coaching gear and the paramedics placed a neck brace on me. When I arrived at the hospital I was informed that I had lost consciousness at the wheel, had a seizure, crossed the centerline, collided head on with another vehicle, spun out, and knocked down the traffic light on Wilmette Avenue across from the public library. This was my first car accident.

Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I founded Urban Initiatives to provide sports-based youth development programming that emphasizes health and character education to students in the Chicago Public Schools. We started the program as a fun way to engage youth in Cabrini-Green, where we were substitute teaching. We were fresh out of college and having tons of fun working with youth who were ripe with potential. We had a team of about 12 kids the first week and today we are operating programming in 22 Chicago Public Schools and impact close to 5,000 youth and families. I would not be able to do what I do today if it was not for the care I received at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH).

The night of the accident I had an MRI and was informed that I had a Cavernous Malformation in my brain. Unlike an aneurism that bursts, a malformation slowly leaks blood into the brain and puts the brain into an epileptic shock. Upon hearing this news I called a longtime friend and supporter of Urban Initiatives who was also at one time the Director of Anesthesiology at NMH. He said the place I needed to be was with Dr. Hunt Batjer at NMH. Dr. Batjer is one of the leading brain surgeons in the country and the man behind the institution that has allowed me to continue the work I am passionate about in the city I love so much.

I decided to have my malformation removed rather than being on medication my entire life. As several doctors encouraged me to do so, “If I had something that big in my brain I would want it out.” I have never before or since had any major medical issues. This was my first “real” hospital experience, and while it was a major episode, I fell in love with the commitment I received from the team at NMH. From the moment I stepped into Dr. Batjer’s office I knew I was in the right place. His amazing sense of humor and his utter confidence in the surgery combined with the kind and astute nurses made me feel like I was on the road to recovery and in some ways on an adventure.

Brain surgery is an amazing experience because they have to wake you up throughout the operation to be sure they did not accidentally scoop out the wrong part. At one point I remember reading an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland. When all was said and done 5 hours later, the surgery was a great success. I awoke on the operating table a little uncertain of what was going on and one of the young surgeons asked what I would like to hear in that moment. I said Radiohead and so it played. The surgery was over and I could not believe I was rocking out (on the operating table) to one of my favorite bands. People are always shocked when I tell them about how much I appreciated the time I spent in the hospital and how I would not alter this life-changing incident. I feel this way because of the incredible experience I had at NMH.

Thanks to the care I received at NMH I was able to continue my work at Urban Initiatives. This year I will be directing a staff of 12 full-time employees, 70 part-time, and over 5oo volunteers. We are proud of the work we do for the youth of Chicago and I am thankful that I had the care that allowed me to continue.

As plans are discussed and proposed to expand the NMH campus downtown I think about how many more experienced that can be had by those in need of expert care. Furthermore a new facility will continue to attract the best of the best (like Dr. Batjer) and greatly benefit the city I love. Thanks to the amazing care I received, I have become a cheerleader for NMH. Two years after my surgery, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Due to the quality of care he witnessed during my treatment at NMH, he began seeing a primary care physician at the hospital. The cancer was identified early and removed. Today he is happy and health, and looking forward to a life of retirement after spending 35 years as an attorney.

NMH is one of my favorite places in Chicago. It not only has done so much for my family and me but for countless people throughout the city and beyond. I look forward to the development of this project not only for the tens of thousands of people it will help once it is completed but also for the thousands of jobs it will create both on the construction and operational side facility.


Jim Dower
Urban Initiatives
Executive Director