The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, Knoxville

Major Gift from Lottery Winner Creates New Endowed Professorship

June 11 is a date Roy Cockrum will never forget — for two reasons. On June 11, 2010, he was confronted by the unknown; he was undergoing heart surgery at The University of Tennessee Medical Center to save his life. On the same date, but four years later, June 11, 2014, Cockrum was thrilled by the unknown; he won the lottery - $259.8 million as the Powerball Jackpot winner.

Through his winnings, Cockrum announced his endowed gift of $1 million in honor of Thomas E. Gaines, MD, Associate Professor and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery and the doctor who lead his heart surgery on that fateful day in 2010.

The Thomas E. Gaines, M.D. Professorship of Cardiothoracic Surgery Endowment will support research, patient care and education for the Heart Lung Vascular Institute. This gift creates the second endowed professorship for the UT Graduate School of Medicine, following the Robert H. Cole Professorship in Neurosciences.

"This is all about gratitude," Cockrum said. "If Dr. Gaines and the team at UT Medical Center hadn't saved my life four years ago, I wouldn't have been here to buy that lottery ticket. These physicians help hundreds of people heal and enable them to go on to do great things in life. I'm thankful to be one of those individuals who is here today and able to pay it forward because of their expertise and commitment to caring for our community."

Dr. Gaines said, "It has been my pleasure to be Roy Cockrum's heart surgeon, and now I am deeply grateful that he has chosen to honor those of us who cared for him with this gift. Cardiac surgery is very much a team sport, and I have been fortunate to have been a part of the cardiothoracic surgery team at UT for almost 25 years.

"His generosity will help us learn new techniques, provide ongoing training for team members, and recruit talented people to join us. The gift will be a resource to fund research that can be conceived and carried out by our own colleagues here at UT and applied to the heart valve problems and other heart and chest diseases we see here in East Tennessee."

In addition, Cockrum bestowed Guardian Angel awards to Dr. Gaines; Dale Wortham, MD, Professor and Fellowship Director of Cardiovascular Diseases and his cardiologist; and David Rankin, MD, his primary care physician. Through the Guardian Angel program at the medical center, patients are able to recognize and honor physicians, nurses, volunteers and staff for providing excellent care.

See photos of the endowed professorship gift announcement at The University of Tennessee Medical Center via Flickr.