Val Bias.

Expertise That Helps You Survive

By S. A. Unger

When Val Bias learned that the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences had partnered with Western New York BloodCare to establish the Rosemary “Penny” Holmberg Hemostasis and Thrombosis Clinical Fellowship in memory of his former nurse, his response was, “She deserves it.”

Bias, a Buffalo native and immediate past CEO of the National Hemophilia Foundation, was diagnosed with hemophilia B at birth. He attended School 84, dedicated to children with physical disabilities. By the time he was in fourth grade, he had such severe bleeding episodes, he was on crutches and in a wheelchair intermittently. “Many of the children were more disabled than I, so there was a kinship between us, and I remember those days fondly,” recalls Bias, now 62. “It was a safe place. There were no social barriers because we all had disabilities.”

Another thing that made the school a safe place was that it was located across the street from Western New York BloodCare, then known as the Hemophilia Center of Western New York.

Penny Holmberg was the nurse at the center for 38 years, leader of its comprehensive care team, and the primary contact for children and parents. “She was like my mother,” says Bias. “She taught me how to manage my disease, she visited me in the hospital, she was with me every step of the way. When I was 12, she taught me how to self-infuse by practicing on her arm so I could hit the vein.”

Bias says that Holmberg followed his career with great pride as he rose through the volunteer ranks to become a national leader in the hemophilia community. “I called her regularly over the years,” he says. “We stayed in very close touch and she was like a grandmother to my son.”

Bias knows better than most how important it is for partnerships to develop such as the one between the Jacobs School and WNY BloodCare. It is at this intersection of patient care and academic research and training where excellence can be sustained.

In Western New York, as in many parts of the country, there is an acute need for hematologists who are trained and skilled in the management of complex bleeding and thrombotic disorders, as well as in state-of-the-art clinical and translational investigation.

Since 2018, WNY BloodCare has awarded the Jacobs School three grants aimed at addressing these needs.

The first grant, for $890,000, established the Robert Long Career Development Award. It invests in a junior physician-scientist who is dedicated to conducting advanced research, facilitating training for medical professionals, and providing expert care to local patients and families with these disorders.

The second grant, for $675,000, established the Rosemary “Penny” Holmberg Hemostasis and Thrombosis Clinical Fellowship in nonmalignant hematology at UB. It provides one to two years of training in advanced medical management of patients with complex bleeding and thrombotic disorders.

A third grant, for $5 million, awarded in 2021, supports recruitment of a research chair with academic expertise in nonmalignant hematology; promotes the development of an accredited, license-granting genetic counseling program that integrates specialized training in nonmalignant bleeding and clotting disorders; and advances interprofessional education across the health sciences, focused on optimal care for hemophilia and other hematologic diseases.

Bias, who recently returned to Western New York to retire, says partnerships such as the one between WNY BloodCare and the Jacobs School are “key to a treatment center working well because they help form relationships with physician-scientists who have expertise in and access to resources that help you survive."