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When Medicine Gets Personal: Debbie Kerr's Motivation for Volunteering with ACE

In the fall of 2012, Debbie Kerr received the results of a DNA swab sample from the Center for Personalized Medicine. Not only did this simple test help identify the best medication for her everyday conditions, but will also serve the future purpose of finding the best medication for treating her early stage leukemia. Through her work this year as the Co-Chair of the Auxiliary’s American Craft Exposition (ACE), Debbie was able to use her volunteer efforts to provide funding for the research that studies how genetics can benefit patients like her.

Debbie Kerr (first from left) pictured with some of the ACE team

What is your role with the American Craft Exposition?
I have been lucky enough to co-chair the American Craft Exposition for the last two years. The transition from our previous location to the Chicago Botanic Garden was a challenge, but also extremely gratifying. I stayed on as co-chair a second year to provide continuity during these important first years at the Garden.

How did you learn about ACE? Why did you want to become part of the team?
I have attended ACE for years. It has always been something I looked forward to attending. I wanted to be a part of the ACE Committee for a few reasons. First, I had never worked on something like ACE so I knew I would learn and grow as a person. Secondly, the women who work on ACE are amazing! I heard that the time and energy it takes to run the show are comparable to running a small business…and I heard right! Third, NorthShore University HealthSystem is my family’s hospital system, and I want to give back to NorthShore in a substantial way.

The most recent exhibition took place in September – what kind of results did you see this year?
ACE 2016 had 144 of the top artists in the country from 12 types of media. We had close to 7,000 show attendees over the ACE weekend, and approximately 850 people attend the spectacular preview party. Through our ticket sales, online auction, raffle and sponsorships, we were able to raise over $190,000 for pharmacogenomics research at NorthShore.

This year’s donations went to NorthShore’s Pharmacogenomics Clinic – how will the funds benefit patients who come to our clinic?
The funds raised through ACE will allow researchers in NorthShore’s Pharmacogenomics Clinic to analyze and predict how patients react to medications based on their genetic variants. This information can then be used to customize medical treatments so that side effects and adverse reactions to drugs can be minimized.

How has your personal experience with DNA testing inspired your work at ACE?
I was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall of 2012. I was diagnosed in the early stages and have not had any treatment yet. While I am in this “watch and wait” period, I want to do everything I can to learn as much as possible about ME so that when I do have to start treatment, I have the best chance of getting the right medicine in the right dose at the right time. Co-chairing ACE 2016 was very personal to me because I knew that funds raised from ACE 2016 were going to support pharmacogenomics research at NorthShore.

Why do you think it’s important for people to know about pharmacogenomics?
I want to help spread the word about pharmacogenomics because it truly applies to everyone. We are all unique and we can all benefit from finding out as much as we can. Giving the simple cheek swab sample so that you can learn how your body reacts to some of the most frequently-prescribed medications is an easy way to find out critical information about YOU. Why go through unnecessary medications and possible bad reactions to medications when you have the opportunity to obtain this information ahead of time?

What did you enjoy most about this year’s exhibition?
After working on ACE 2016 for literally 12 months, I enjoyed seeing the show come together during set-up days. I knew the show was going to be beautiful because of the quality of our artists and also because of the gorgeous setting. Greeting the returning artists brought back so many fond memories from ACE 2015. Seeing the smiles and words of praise for the beautiful Garden from the new artists was like a shot in the arm…all the long hours, hard work and planning was so worth it! After all the artists have set up their booths I like to take an hour or so and quietly walk the show because I know that once the preview party starts, it is going to be crazy…in a good way!

Did you have any favorite designers or pieces?
I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite! What I love about ACE is that every time, I wear something from ACE or someone sees an ACE piece in my home; I receive compliments on the piece(s). The pieces are unique, one-of-a-kind works of art that you just can’t find in a store. They are even more special because I personally know the artists who made them. I love them all!