UCI Health has lasting impact on pancreatic cancer patient

October 13, 2016
UCI Health pancreatic patient and donor Beth Koehler is pictured with her parents.
Beth Koehler, right, was so grateful to the nurses and other healthcare providers at UC Irvine Medical Center that she established endowments at UC Irvine in the names of her father, Walter Koehler, left, and her mother, Beth R. Koehler, top.

Beth Lynn Koehler and Frank Carri met in community college. They married in 1967, then divorced in 1973. But they were connected for a lifetime.

“Even after we divorced, we’d travel together. We went to Hawaii, Europe, Mexico. We loved each other; we just couldn’t live under the same roof,” Frank said.

In 1981, Frank met Nancy, his wife of 35 years and counting. They married and raised two children. Through it all, Beth stayed in touch. That’s why Frank knew she was preparing to leave town on her annual trip. In years past, she’d traveled to places like New Guinea, Greece, Nepal and Yemen.

This was 2013 and Beth was headed to Vietnam.

“She called me a few days before the trip because her urine was orange. I told her she had to see a doctor,” said Frank.

Initial test results came back negative. But the symptoms remained. A few days and several tests later, Frank got another call from Beth. She had pancreatic cancer.

Based on the Carri family’s experiences with UCI Health, Frank insisted that Beth be seen at the academic medical center.

“If you never listen to anything else I say, listen now; you have to go to UCI,’” Carri recalled telling Beth. “Thank God, she listened.”

Following a friend's advice

Beth cancelled her trip to Vietnam and, with Frank in the driver’s seat, made the trip to UC Irvine Medical Center.

“My gamble on getting Beth to UCI Health over another hospital, where she wanted to go, paid off to the point that she really came to love UCI — especially the wonderful nurses in the infusion center, where we spent most of our time, but also all the great doctors and their very caring staff,” said Frank.

“I remain convinced to this day that getting Beth to UCI Health not only greatly prolonged her life, but enabled her to acquire a great attitude that enhanced her quality of life — and that was mainly from being exposed to such positive and caring staff.

Beth survived for three years following her diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer. During that time, Frank said, she began to consider what would become of her estate.

As the last child of the last child on her father’s side, Beth had been the beneficiary of an inheritance. It had given her the financial security to leave a successful advertising career for a part-time position at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts box office. A love of the theater kept her there for 17 years.

According to Frank, Beth really wasn’t sure what to do with her inheritance. Ultimately, she chose to support several organizations including UC Irvine, where she established endowments to honor her parents.

A legacy in gratitude

Beth’s mother, Beth R. Koehler, was a professional dancer who traded her career for motherhood. Beth established a dance scholarship in her mother’s name at UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts, providing perpetual support to aspiring dancers.

Because her mother suffered from macular degeneration, Beth also made a gift to the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, supporting research that could lead to the eradication of the potentially blinding disease.

Her father, Walter Koehler, died of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that was eroding Beth's health. So she made bequests to advance pancreatic cancer research and to train pancreatic cancer fellows at UCI Health. The endowed fund she created to support this vital research may spark discoveries that one day make this cancer a disease of the past.

Although Beth Koehler passed away in March 2016, her impact will be felt for generations through the legacy of her gifts to UC Irvine.

“Beth was a good human who wanted to do the right thing," Frank said. "Having a terminal disease, she came to appreciate the good that money could do for others. In the end, she felt really good about that.”

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