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Magee-Womens nurse to donate at least $450,000 in retirement savings to hospital for infertility research

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Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The anguished faces of couples desperate to conceive children move Sylvia Bernassoli.

“Your heart goes out to them, because they're just beside themselves because they can't have a baby,” said Bernassoli, 79, of McMurray.

She cares so much that Bernassoli, a certified registered nurse anesthetist with the Center for Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, will donate a portion of her retirement savings to infertility research.

Bernassoli arranged a donation plan that eventually will provide at least $450,000 to support research into infertility and other reproductive health conditions at Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation and the hospital, said Arthur Scully III, the institute's vice president of development and communications.

“This is the largest planned gift Magee has received in 10 years, and it's very special because it comes from someone who has worked at Magee for a long time and who has seen firsthand what research can do to improve patient care and patient care outcomes,” Scully said on Friday.

Bernassoli said she did so because Magee faces challenges to raise money, and donors often don't consider infertility a serious medical problem. They question why infertile couples don't adopt children, she said.

“These people come in here crying because they can't have their own babies,” she said.

Tax law requires holders of individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, to withdraw a certain amount every year after age 70. Bernassoli will donate $20,000 annually from two IRAs for the rest of her life to pay premiums on a $250,000 life insurance policy. She named Magee as her beneficiary and owner of the policy.

Upon her death, the life insurance policy and the IRAs, which also will be donated, will pay Magee $450,000 to $550,000, Scully said.

The planned gift will protect Bernassoli's savings from significant estate taxes, Magee said.

Surveys show that 6 percent to 8 percent of people make charitable donations for tax benefits, said Lisa M. Dietlin, president of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates Inc., a philanthropic advisory firm in Chicago.

“Most give because they know someone affiliated, or it's because of the mission of the organization,” she said.

Bernassoli's method of giving is becoming more common, but “it's a pretty sophisticated giving mechanism” more easily handled by hospitals and colleges, Dietlin said.

Bernassoli's nursing career spans nearly 56 years. She graduated from the now-closed South Side Hospital Nursing School in 1955.

She has administered anesthesia to women undergoing egg retrieval for in vitro fertilization for about 22 years, 13 of them through Magee, she said.

“I love everything about it. I like the patient contact,” said Bernassoli, who still works full time.

Money for women's health research historically has been underfunded, and budget cuts tied to federal sequestration will affect Magee's research institute, Scully said.

Eighty-five percent of the institute's $50 million budget for fiscal 2012 was derived from the federal National Institutes of Health. Sequestration will cut NIH grants by 20 percent to 30 percent this year, he said.

To thank Bernassoli, Magee hosted a party for her on Friday at Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg. She insisted that Magee not pay for the party, and she split its cost with a family friend. That reflects her character, Magee staffers said.

“If there is a book on ethics and work ethics, she should be written about as an ideal worker. ... We love her,” said Dr. Anthony Wakim, Magee's medical director of assisted reproductive technology.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

 

 

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